Recently, TFT and Bapak H. Mursil, S.H, M.Kn , the Head of Aceh Tamiang Regency (locally referred to as Bupati), in Indonesia, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), pledging to work together to support green economic growth and development in the region.
Since January 2019 TFT has become Earthworm Foundation.
Natural resources abound in Aceh Tamiang, Indonesia. Despite this, poverty is common in the region and farming, particularly of palm plants, stands as the main source of income for many. But smallholder farmers’ production of palm fruit is usually low due to a combination of limited knowledge of cultivation techniques and poor plantation management practices. With unproductive crops and few alternative sources of income to turn to, several smallholders have encroached upon protected forest areas to expand their plantations and increase their income.
TFT, after signing an MoU, is now working with Aceh Tamiang’s Bupati to turn this situation around.
At present, the local government allocates funding for farmers to replant their palm. Aceh Tamiang will also take part in the first pilot of the Indonesian government’s national replanting programme in 2018 which will initially target 3,100 hectares of old plantation, or around 1,500 farmers. This financial support provided by the government helps farmers to prepare their plantations by clearing land or obtaining high quality seeds. However, it takes four years for a replanted palm plantation to generate income.
H Mursil, the Bupati of Aceh Tamiang, explained why this is a concern: “Replanting is a high investment cost. If there is no solution for on-farm problems, such as pests, and no alternative livelihood during replanting, many farmers might sell their land, and possibly even encroach upon more of the protected forest area because they have no other income; and thus the replanting program could fail to meet the development goal.”
“During the replanting period, when they have lost their main source of income, farmers need support on better farm management through viable alternative incomes, as well as financial literacy to manage their household economy.” Yulia Hardini, TFT’s programme manager for the project, added. This support is not currently available to farmers.
Hardini explained that listening to and including local communities is essential to conserving Aceh Tamiang’s protected areas, particularly given that over forty percent of oil palm plantations in the district are run by smallholders.
“Successful conservation lies in the ability to reconcile conservation goals with social and economic issues. This requires engaging with and providing benefits for local communities,” she continued. “Finding alternatives for these smallholders, supporting them during replanting and increasing their resilience in the long-term will be essential in the coming years if we want to reduce deforestation.”
In addition to the local government’s financial support, TFT will set up smallholder empowerment programmes. These will include supporting the establishment or strengthening of farmers’ groups; capacity building on good agricultural practices; identifying economically viable livelihood alternatives, as well as supporting local government with their land use planning.
Prior to this, however, a thorough understanding of the local context is needed, as Bobby Bayu, a technical lead in TFT’s Indonesia office, explained: “The initial steps include gathering meaningful information concerning smallholders’ livelihoods, land tenure, on-farm problems and the dynamics of the communities.”
Through this combination of activities and collaboration, TFT, Aceh Tamiang’s Bupati, local communities and smallholders plan to strike the right balance between conservation and development. “This initial promise to work together through the MoU is an important milestone to improving the yields of smallholder farmers and ensuring long-term protection for the forests of Aceh Tamiang,” Hardini said.