Immediate benefits for women farmers in Aceh
Women play a vital role in farming in many parts of Aceh, and their integral involvement in the planting and harvest of rice crops often goes unrecognised. A vegetable garden program run by a partnership of Australian and Indonesian agricultural services has gained recognition for groups of women, providing food and income for their families and a social outlet missing in many conflict and tsunami-affected parts of Aceh.
This program was initiated after the success of Aceh’s provincial agricultural service, Balai Pengkajian Teknologi Pertanian (BPTP) to bring individual backyard farmers together into groups where training and support can be provided.
The valuable contribution to families’ food supply and nutrition is recognised by authorities in Pidie Jaya and Bireuen with support for the expansion of a backyard gardens program. In Pidie Jaya the Governor’s directive to local agricultural agencies has led to support for more than 300 families to establish gardens. Backyards and vacant town and village land have been converted to gardens with the primary aim of improving families’ nutrition.
The Harapan Maju (Developing Hope) group in Bireuen are utilising backyards, communal plots and vacant land surrounding the local school to grow vegetables for the farmers market.
In Aceh Barat, on Aceh’s west coast, the efforts of extension worker Supriyani have provided a successful model for the formation of women’s farming groups. With initial financial support now available, Supriyani can organise training workshops for the women. Supriyani heads the extension office in Arongan Lambalek, providing opportunities to demonstrate good farming techniques to a wider audience. In the past year she has established four groups as part of an ACIAR project.
The women in each group are members of a cooperative, receiving financial assistance for initial costs such as fencing, seed and garden tools. Income from the group’s activities is split into three parts: one third covers costs of the next round of crops, one third is deposited in the group’s bank account, and one third is distribut¬ed as income to the members. Groups are locally supported and form part of a larger network that is being slowly being established in Aceh.
One such group, Bungong Barona (Blooming Flowers), maintain their activities alongside rice planting and harvesting, and rubber tapping. Obtaining suitable land following the tsunami was difficult, because most buildings in coastal areas were destroyed and questions about land owner¬ship were unresolved. With secure land tenure and initial funding from an NGO, Bungong Barona has been able to plan for the future as they move into their fourth year.
The more recently established Tunas Mekar is one of the groups established in 2009 by the ACIAR project. Local extension workers like Supriyani, Haryati. Munir, Anidar and Dedeh Kuniati are supported by Nazariah of BPTP. The new groups are developing a similar structure to Bungong Barona and with access to vacant land and backyard space, are supplying produce to their members, their villages and nearby towns and cities.
Crops vary according to markets and seasons. Chillies, corn, ginger, watermelons, leafy greens and bananas have been commercial successes, while other crops have special value for family nutrition.
Perhaps the most welcome benefit for the women is the social interaction, which is helping to alleviate the sense of isolation that civil conflict and the tsunami had embedded in the local community.
“We used to leave the rice fields and stay the rest of the day in our houses alone” says Lindawati a member of Tunas Mekar. “Now we have the op¬portunity to socialise and sometimes we discuss our problems and how we can improve our life.” “The income is very welcome.” says Nurlaili “It helps our children at school, and our family diet is better now, we eat a lot more vegetables”.
The success of the groups so far established and the collaboration with local agencies has led to support for the creation of a Women in Agriculture network in Aceh. The presence of such networks in Australia, and the success of similar initiatives in Papua New Guinea prompted Australian project members to incorporate the concept into the current program of workshops and activities in Aceh.
The network idea was raised at a forum of women farmers and extension workers in March 2010. The response was enthusiastic, especially if the network can help train more capable exten¬sion staff like Supriyani to meet the demand for this program.
- Partners Magazine. Ibu Supriyani: Organic farming pioneer in Aceh. March – June 2008. pp 20-22.
- FAO (2005)Women in agriculture, environment and rural production. Fact sheet Indonesia.