Indonesia: Calang farmers make post-tsunami history

Aceh Jaya, Indonesia, 8 May 2007 -- For many of the farmers in Calang's Krueng Sabee sub-district, farming is all they know. In the words of one farmer: "Farming is in my blood." So when the tsunami crashed through their paddy fields in 2004, their previously fertile soil became a sodden wasteland, and their livelihood and passion came to an abrupt halt.

But through a UNDP project implemented by Islamic Relief, these farmers have seen their paddy fields come to life once again. So much so, they are now preparing for a historic moment: their first harvest since the tsunami.

The long-term project, which started in June 2006, is assisting tsunami-affected and post-conflict-affected farmers to return to their paddy fields. It is helping 575 farmers cultivate and plant rice in 125 hectares in Krueng Sabee sub district. The project is also focusing on food security through the provision of tools, fertilizers, herbicides, land cultivation costs, and a particular seed that harvests quicker than normal seed.

Islamic Relief field staff identified the 575 beneficiary farmers based on focus group discussions with village leaders, and on each farmer's participatory abilities. All of the farmers are part of a farming group in their individual locations. These groups were in place before the tsunami, and they helped farmers tackle issues together, such as pest control.

As one village leader said to local farmers: "If you want to continue your lives then start now. Otherwise you will starve, because aid agencies will not always be here." The farmers who took that advice now find themselves preparing for their first harvest since December 2004.

One of those farmers is 37-year-old Pak Safarrudin. He is part of a farming group comprising 42 members. He owns 0.5 hectares of paddy fields in the scenic Datar Luas village, and they are thriving once again.

He explains: "The tsunami waste covered all of my land. It was a mess, and all that grew afterwards were weeds. We felt absolute despair. But farming is all we know, so we were prepared to clear the land ourselves."

But Safarrudin and his fellow farmers felt inspired when they heard about assistance available from UNDP and Islamic Relief. With the farmers' consent, UNDP helped clear the waste through a local contractor, using three bulldozers and an excavator. The work began in June 2006 and was completed in October 2006, leaving the way clear for Islamic Relief to begin its Livelihoods project in the paddy fields.

Following UNDP's initial waste clearance, Safarrudin and his fellow farmers received 40kg of seed per hectare (on average, each farmer owns 0.5 hectares). First the farmers prepared a nursery/seed bed close to the paddy field. This gives the seeds a chance to start growth. Then, after approximately 20 days, the farmers transplant the seedlings to the soil in the paddy fields using traditional tools.

Prior to the tsunami, the farmers used a type of seed that needed six months to harvest. But following discussions with the farmers and village leaders, Islamic Relief provided seeds that take only 3.5 months to harvest. They are procured from west Java, and certified by the Government of Indonesia's agricultural department. The speed of the seed growth is particularly significant, as the farmers in this area no longer receive post-tsunami rice aid from World Food Programme (WFP).

Added Safarrudin: "I'm currently still buying rice to feed myself, my wife and two children. But I'm looking forward to my first harvest, which I hope will yield around 3.5 tonnes. This is more than enough to feed us, so I'm hoping to sell what remains."

Throughout the entire growing process, the farmers receive support and motivation from Islamic Relief. Explains Pak Harsono, Islamic Relief Field Coordinator: "We're delighted to see the farmers' interest in being a part of this project. They receive a contract from Islamic Relief, which helps boost their motivation. Once they plant rice, we give them land cultivation costs for work such as bush clearing. After the work has been done, the farmers receive approximately Rp1.5million per hectare. They also receive herbicides, hand sprayers and fertilizers, most of which is distributed via the head of each farmer group.

"But we don't just stop at seed and equipment - we also give farmers monitoring and guidance through technical advice, and advice on how to mobilize themselves. We will also be there to help motivate the farmers for their second harvest. Overall it's an encouraging process."

UNDP's overall livelihood recovery strategy focuses on the poor and vulnerable who need to quickly return to their pre-tsunami income levels in order to sustain themselves. Livelihood recovery activities include providing support for the recovery of small enterprises and trade; rural livelihoods; vocational and skills training; civil society capacity building; women's group support; rehabilitation of economic infrastructure; and strengthening local government capacity for livelihoods recovery.

For more information, contact: Nina Doyle:, +62 (0)812 105 2796