Eko is creating a new sustainable community system that accommodates all the usually confrontational stakeholders in integrated dry land farming, supporting this with technological innovations that promote economic sustainability.
The New Idea
Former aid projects in dry land farming only targeted farmers, whereas Eko’s model seeks to involve all the actors - community leaders, local administrative officials and forestry and agricultural field workers - who impact the issue. Eko’s participatory organizational structure promotes ownership by the farmer groups, and also builds consensus among all related people. At the center of the process is the formation of the “Tim Pembina Desa” or Village Advisory Team (VAT), with members from three different levels of the total community - formal and non-formal village leaders, government field workers, and representatives from the farmer groups. The VAT takes responsibility for the implementation and development of village programs, including the supervision, monitoring and evaluation of farming activities. Further, the organizational structure builds the capacity for receptivity to new farming techniques that make the land more viable. These techniques include an emphasis on the use of “gamal” trees for strengthening terraces and fertilizing the soil and “gaharu” trees as an important new cash crop that will triple the incomes for dry land farmers.
Eastern Indonesia (Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, Sumba, Timor, and lesser islands) is poorer than other regions of Indonesia and has large areas of dry, unproductive land. There are higher malnutrition and infant mortality rates, because of the lower levels of agricultural production and incomes. Geographically, the eastern islands are characterized by narrow coastal strips and barren upland interiors, with denuded steep slopes and high erosion rates of the “thin” soils. There is a very long dry season of about eight months each year. Usually only one crop can be grown in the short wet season and farmers must manage for the rest of the year by taking whatever is available from the nearby forests (when they exist) or by working in unskilled and low-paying laboring jobs in distant towns and cities. In recent years many have given up and sold their land, and moved to towns. Large numbers of people from the region are desperate enough to become overseas workers in the Middle East or in other Southeast Asian countries.
The region also has not received the same levels of development in infrastructure and services such as irrigation systems, roads and communications compared with the rest of the country. There has not been enough attention given to the development of alternative crops in these areas, and there is a widespread lack of knowledge and experience in appropriate terracing methods and a lack of information about new farming technologies. Nor is the climate conducive to plantation crops such as tea, coffee, palm oil, cloves, as in other islands such as Java, Sumatra and Sulawesi. The eastern islands are now almost totally bare of one natural resource, the native sandalwood trees, due to over-exploitation since colonial days.
There are non-technical problems as well. There have been aid projects for dry land farming and government programs from the Forestry and Agriculture departments. But, as in other regions, the government programs lack coordination and their field workers are not motivated and enterprising; and the aid projects, whether introduced by NGOs or international bodies, have generally not proved sustainable because of poor project design which neglects to develop organizational structures. Farmers are simply treated as target groups and are seen in isolation. The fast-growing “gamal” tree, for example, had been introduced as a way to strengthen terraces, but the trees became neglected soon after the projects finished because of lack of follow-up supervision and lack of a full awareness of their value. When there is no back-up system for the projects, and villages are not empowered to work as whole units and no links are developed with officials and others who can provide more information, the results, time after time, are that the projects collapse after the funders leave.
Based on his belief in a complete approach to dry land farming, Eko convinced two friends who had also worked on a former project with CARE, to join with him to develop a demplot (demonstration plot) with 4 farmers on a one hectare piece of land. With Eko’s leadership, they experimented together for a year with alternative crops and different ways to improve soil conditions and land management, with the aim of succeeding in growing new crops. Their first strategies were to plant perennials such as fruit crops, and new cash crops such as peanuts, ginger and vegetables, to supplement the usual corn and cassava food crops. Eko also experimented with the gaharu tree (see later), especially to find ways to increase humidity in the environment for the gaharu seedlings.
In 1997, with confidence and learning from this experience, Eko created his own organization : PSPSDM (Pusat Studi dan Pengembangan Sumber Daya Manusia - The Centre for the Study and Development of Human Resources), with himself as director and the two friends as field staff, and with the clear vision that continuity in farming programs could only be achieved through a participatory organizational structure at the community level.
With the establishment of PSPSDM, Eko had extended activities in the vicinity of the demplot and formed his first farmer groups (54 farmers in 4 groups) in Penimbung village in west Lombok. In the past the farmers here had been taught about terracing and there had been the introduction of a wider variety of crops, but without full integration of the new methods and without any institutional strengthening at all. In the case of the gamal trees, PSPSDM’s approach is an integrated one in which farmers learn how the leaves and roots of the trees are used to enrich the soil, their shade is used to protect new seedlings (and increase humidity) and the leaves are also used as fodder for cattle. Simultaneously the Yayasan develops the process of social preparation. PSPSDM always starts with the establishment of farmer groups of 10 –15 individuals who are encouraged to work together on new farming methods and to contribute small savings for the group’s needs as the first step towards self-sufficiency. They hold regular weekly meetings at which they learn and plan together. The farmer groups are then immediately linked to the “upstream” community actors, through their membership in the local community organization called the “Tim Pembina Desa” – Village Advisory Team (VAT).
The VAT is the essence of Eko’s idea and the basis of the whole program of PSPSDM. It is a very unusual type of community institutional structure as it includes both formal (appointed officials) and informal community leaders (such as village elders, religious leaders), government department field officers and ordinary farmers. The aim is for the VAT to function independently, without the NGO’s assistance except when requested.
PSPSDM’s strategy from the beginning, in all locations, is to concentrate on the full participation of all government district officials and all field officers of related government departments (agriculture and forestry). Special seminars and workshops are organized for them at the same time as the farmer groups and farming innovations are being developed by PSPSDM. Eko has had to work hard to build up close contacts with key government personnel and community officials, and he always employs strategies in organizing the workshops so that they seem to be their own programs. For example, he plans a workshop around an existing government program that is not being implemented. This way he gets the maximum response, and this results in a willingness from those at the “top” to work together and coordinate with ordinary farmer groups. The VATs are then comprised of members from all levels in the community, all with common goals, mutual needs, an integrated communication structure and a long-term commitment.
Eko also has proof already that the VAT community institution is working. In response to the Indonesian economic crisis, “safety net” projects have been set up and while many have been mismanaged, the VATs in his locations took on the decision-making roles about organizing the government programs effectively, and the CRS (Catholic Relief Service) rice program actively used the VATs in east and west Lombok.
In early 1999, Eko replicated the VAT structure in the villages of Perigi and Ketangga in eastern Lombok, with another 120 farmers in 6 groups, and he is actively pursuing contacts provided by government field workers to work with a village on the island of Sumbawa. He is finding that self-multiplication is occurring too, as farmer groups in neighboring villages are beginning to organize themselves along the same lines, and Eko takes the opportunity to arrange cross-visits to encourage the process. Eko is also purposely building on his links with the government, and PSPSDM was invited recently by the forestry department to work with them to organize VAT in one of their areas in north Lombok. He has a proposal at present before UNDP on which he purposely worked together with 3 NGOs and Bapeda (Provincial Planning Authority) to design one large grant for community development in villages of the forest buffer zone areas around Mt. Rinjani; it was Eko’s strategy to involve wider participation in the proposal to promote the socialization and implementation of his VAT structure.
A particular strategy developed by Eko to reinforce the integrated dry land farming system is that of the “gaharu” tree (eagle wood) as an entirely new cash crop, as he sees that it will provide a long-term economic incentive. This tree, an endangered species, produces "knots" (or "cysts") along its trunk and these can be harvested as shavings that can be exported to perfume and pharmaceutical industries (1 kg = $1000 in Mataram). In its natural state, the gaharu tree only produces one knot at a time but a professor at the University of Mataram has done research recently on ways to inoculate the gaharu tree with a type of fungus that produces multiple knots. Eko first became interested in gaharu in 1996 when he attended a seminar of the university professor, and he has gained his full support to put his theory into practice as no-one else has done this methodically for the benefit of farmers. There were many challenges as the gaharu tree is suited to more humid conditions and more fertile soils than those of Lombok and Sumbawa, but PSPSDM has gradually solved these problems and thousands of the trees are already in their second year. They will be ready for inoculation in another year and harvesting can begin 2 - 3 years later. Eko has carefully planned PSPSDM’s role : first to provide the technology transfer, then to give all available information on inoculation and marketing. In fact Eko can see an opportunity for PSPSDM’s own sustainability long-term through an acceptable profit sharing arrangement with the farmer groups, but he is adamant that it will be the VAT’s own decisions about whether to use the Yayasan’s seedlings and inoculation services.
In February, 1998 PSPSDM gained funding support from GEF/UNDP to develop the gaharu project and the VAT system. The funds also support the publication of the three- monthly “Wanatani” magazine for the farmers of eastern Indonesia, in which a wide variety of information on agricultural practices are presented in clear but simple language, with informative illustrations. Eko has written a manual on gaharu cultivation (Sistem Pertanian Lahan Kering dan Budidaya Gaharu – Dry land Farming System for Gaharu Cultivation) and it is published in an attractive color booklet form. These publications are both excellent tools for spreading the ideas.
The latest addition in Eko’s complete integrated farming approach is the cattle program. Cattle stealing is a major problem in the region (thieves have even been known to make cattle swim wide distances from island to island at night, tied to bamboo rafts), yet cattle provide valuable fertilizer and cash incomes and they thrive on the gamal leaf fodder. Since early 1999, PSPSDM has introduced a collective penning program to the farmer groups, with farmers taking turns to be on guard. The idea is working very effectively and is spreading quickly.
Eko is from East Java and his parents are both teachers, another type of "non-profit enterprise" in Eko’s view. During his schooldays, Eko enjoyed the scout movement and was a leader from East Java during a national scout jamboree in Jakarta. At university he was active in the Student Senate and a leader of a soil study group. From this he gained experience with groups and a liking for community activities. He even chose to study agriculture based on the idea of working in rural communities.
Eko studied in the faculty of Agriculture at the University of Mataram, in its Agronomy, Soil and Fertility Program. After graduating in 1990, he worked in Lombok and Sumbawa as a trainer, field coordinator and researcher on a variety of development programs with CARE, SAVE the CHILDREN (as program officer in project for literacy and women, and agriculture), WORLD WILDLIFE FUND and LP3ES Mataram (Institute for Social and Economic Research, Education and Information).
He had planned for a long time to put his own ideas for integrated and community sustainable farming into practice, and finally took the plunge even though he had to use his own funds and savings for the Yayasan during the first year, making ends meet and borrowing a motorbike to visit the field. But he was sustained by seeing this organization as his life’s work. Eko seriously wants to spread the program “everywhere”.