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Jakarta Post

Sowing the seeds of empowerment through community programs

  • Inforial

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta, Indonesia   /   Wed, June 14, 2017   /  10:23 am
Sowing the seeds of empowerment through community programs - (-/-)

Reaping a successful harvest of chili from a 20 meter by 20 meter plot next to his house was enough to get Indra Irawan excited to learn more about growing other crops to supplement his primary income. Since then, his success has inspired his neighbors and friends to learn about horticulture. The local government, impressed by the results, lent him 5 hectares of land to manage and now Indra, together with 19 others, formed a farming community.

For years, the 32-year-old, who manages a 7 hectare plot of land for palm oil, had been worried about his monthly earnings being affected by the instability of commodity prices.

But the skills he picked up from attending the Integrated Farming System (IRS) program, a community development initiative led by PT Riau Andalan Pulp and Paper (RAPP), helped to allay his fears and breathed new life into his farm.

For example, as part of the IRS program, Indra and his community of farmers were taught the best planting times to avoid harvesting during periods of oversupply when prices normally fall. One way to do this is to widen the planting cycle of sweetcorn to regulate its production volume. Another tip is to plant crops that will be in demand during Ramadhan and fetch a high price, like watermelon and ground nuts. “Sellers are tricky. They like to play on prices. If the commodity is limited, then they will scramble,” said Indra.

Through his newly acquired horticultural and entrepreneurial skills, the father of two is now earning between Rp 4 and 5 million (US$300 and US$400) monthly. By selling mustard and bitter gourd soup, Indra managed to earn Rp 17 million (US$1,275) from produce grown on a quarter of his land. This produce, which was originally just a side business, is now contributing more than his regular income. “Palm oil is unstable. Now I can get around Rp 3 million (US$225) monthly through horticulture,” he said.

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PT RAPP’s programs, like the one Indra has benefitted from, educate farmers on better land use methods and encourage farming. It includes sharing knowledge on planting management and bookkeeping, as well as education on seeds and fertilizers. PT RAPP also invites experts and academics to provide specialized training to the group of farmers.

The success of their farming and sales depend on the tenacity of each community, where Indra sets a strong example. “At the time, it was me who proposed to PT RAPP to help our community,” Indra recalled. They are now planting chili, sweetcorn, fruits and vegetables using the knowledge they have acquired. The local government also provided farming tools. “I can say that our tools are complete. We even have tractors,” Indra said.

Now that his efforts are paying off, Indra is rethinking his strategy of only growing palm oil on his plantation land; a combination of land inherited from his parents and some he has purchased. The higher yields from his horticultural efforts are motivating him to make a gradual shift toward other commodity crops. These are fast becoming his steady flow of income while waiting to harvest palm oil, which takes from 4 to 5 years to mature.

Indra and other members of the farming community are now planning to purchase more land to expand their farming enterprise, imagining a future in which they can be vegetable tycoons. “To be entrepreneurs, skills like setting the planting period, searching for markets and bookkeeping are necessary,” said Indra. “These are all skills we’ve learned as part of the IRS program.”

For this high school graduate who had previously worked as an employee at Futong Port, earning less than Rp 2.5 million (US$180) a month, things have come a long way. Since devoting his time to horticulture he says he has been happier because he is able to earn more and be closer to his family.

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