Indonesia: Farmers return to their land in Aceh and Nias

Originally published
A LIITLE over a year after the Asian tsunami struck the coasts around the northern tip of Indonesia, the severely affected agricultural sector is getting back on its feet.
The destructive waves washed out a fourth of the cash crop areas and rice fields, taking along with them the livelihoods of about 320,000 farmers and employees and leaving in their wake damage estimated at more than Rp.2 trillion (US$ 200 million).

Under ADB's Earthquake and Tsunami Emergency Support Project (ETESP), being executed by the Aceh-Nias Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Agency (BRR), tsunami-affected communities are being empowered to connect to the resources they need, agricultural enterprises are being restored, and the damaged agricultural support services are being rehabilitated.

"A start in a long journey has been made, as farmers return to their lands," says Pieter Smidt, Head of ADB's Extended Mission Sumatra in Medan. "ETESP's agriculture component is a critical part of the rehabilitation and reconstruction process to provide a sustainable livelihood for Aceh and Nias's agricultural communities affected by the December 2004 tsunami."

To enable farming communities to plan and implement their own recovery, ETESP carried out a pilot program focused on 10 villages in 5 sub-districts of Aceh Besar that developed group-based micro-projects for food crops, livestock, horticulture and tree crops, and mini-proposals for funding.

As part of this program, community information folders have been prepared as a new tool to connect communities directly to specific support and resources. The individual, local-specific targeting offered by this system ensures that ETESP supports disadvantaged rural groups such as widows, orphans, and internally displaced persons.

To fast track the recovery of the farming sector, ETESP is supporting agriculture-related human resources and institutional development of district and provincial government in demand-driven support services in the project area.

In 2005, 30 trainers from 10 tsunami-affected districts in Aceh were trained in participatory methodologies, farmers' field school networking, crop production, and land rehabilitation. These trainers are now carrying out 80 training programs for 2,400 farmers involved in food crop production.

In order to rehabilitate agricultural support services to the farmers, government agencies at the national, provincial level have been provided with funds to restore damaged facilities; vehicles to provide transportation for trainers and extension workers; and equipment, such as computers and other office equipment for data management, monitoring and evaluation of the delivery of assistance to farmers in accordance with their needs.

Technical specialists have also developed rehabilitation strategies for damaged farmlands, and a cash-for-work program has been undertaken to rehabilitate productive assets through land clearing and simple drainage improvement techniques to reduce salinity. Almost 50,000 farmers are involved in this work, which includes 12,961 ha of farmlands, 48,620 meters of canals, and farm roads.

Once these farmers finish rehabilitating their farmlands, expected sometime early this year, they will be given seeds, fertilizers, and other productive materials for planting 10,850 hectares of rice, 750 ha of corn, 650 ha of soybeans, 750 ha of groundnuts, and 186 ha of horticulture crops to start the process of agricultural enterprise recovery.

To support the recovery of enterprise support processes and farmer-to-farmer services, agriculture equipment is being provided to selected farmers' groups, including 10 large tractors, 94 hand tractors, 89 water pumps, 15 compost machines, 57 power threshers, and 140 packages of farm tools.

Some $2.17 million from an existing ADB loan for integrated pest management was reallocated to Aceh and Nias for estate crops reconstruction. With this, an oil palm nursery has been established at Nagan Raya with 300,000 seedlings to support farmers needs on 2,000 has of estate crops by the middle of this year.

In Aceh Besar, another nursery has been established with 3-month coconut seedlings sufficient for planting on 1,500 ha in five months time. In Bireun and Aceh Besar, 1,845 ha of old coconut groves have been rehabilitated to increase the standing stock. In Aceh Selatan, 726 ha of nutmeg have been planted with new seedlings, while 1,850 ha of maize have been planted as an inter crop in Aceh Besar and Bireun.

A micro-finance program has also been established in Pidie and Aceh Barat, Nias and the peri-urban area of Banda Aceh, with a specific focus on women and single-parent families, whose incomes are below the poverty line. Training workshops to provide entrepreneurial skills to affected families are being held, and grants for both on- and off-farm micro-enterprise development are now available.

"There is still a long way to go before yields and enterprise returns come back to even pre-tsumani levels," says Muhammad Ehsan Khan, ADB Project Officer for ETESP. "Through coordination with all stakeholders and long-term planning, the networks and integrated farming processes that are so vital for profitable agricultural enterprises will be restored, and incomes for rural families will then be able to climb up above the poverty line."

Mr. Smidt adds, "With ADB and the Ministry of Agriculture's long-term commitment to the farmers' journey to full recovery, the farmers' dreams of their agricultural communities finally achieving the prosperity offered by the fertile lands of Aceh and Nias after 30 years of conflict and increasing poverty can be realized."

Asian Development Bank
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