Landscape Restoration in Disaster Affected Areas: seeing the market as a part of the solution

GLF 2017 Blog Competition
Zain Noor Rahman

In 2011, one year after Merapi Volcano Eruption, I was involved in a project to accelerate ecosystem restoration for some disaster-affected-villages in southern slope of the mountain. The project aimed at helping villagers to get out of difficulties induced by the disaster which had ruined their farmlands with deposits of lava materials in forms of rock and sand. The impacts of disaster were profound in term of depleted natural resources the locals had nurtured for generations. Forests were burnt as pyroclastic clouds ran through valleys leaving thousands of trees and vegetations turned into charcoals and ashes. It was reported that some 867 hectares of forested landscape in the area were destroyed with financial loss amounted to 2.3 million EUR.

The only market friendly commodity was nothing but sand. Sand mining was magically saving village economies by providing quick cash incomes as livestock farming was hampered from becoming the main livelihood as it used to be. With almost all arable lands were covered by eruption materials, the only way to get back into farming village was by removing the materials and selling those quality sands for construction works. The more eruption materials were excavated from previously fertile soil, the more lands were available for agriculture. The more materials sold to sand depot, the more money were available to start the recovery of agriculture activities.

Demands for housing materials downstream was the driver of this massive sand transporting business, employing hundreds of trucks roaring back and forth the roads along affected villages. At hamlet level, removal of eruption materials was coordinated by a committee to coordinate land owners and owners of heavy-duty-equipments in establishing price of materials per dump truck load capacity, which was valued around € 10. Incomes from sales were then shared into proportion of 46 percent for equipment owners, 23 percent for land owners and the rest 31 percent went for hamlet committee. The hamlet committee then allocated the fund to repair roads impacted by materials transportation and to give holiday allowance amounted € 30 for all households within the hamlet once in a year. To keep pace with this lucrative mining business, my project needed to offer another way to generate incomes for households. The idea was by promoting Thailand Papaya (Carica papaya) as main commodities for short term incomes, planted in combination with Sengon (Paraserianthes falcataria) for intermediate term incomes and also fruit trees like Durian (Durio zibethinus), Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophylus), Avocado (Persea americana) for long term incomes from fruit production, while still functioning as terrace reinforcement. All these plants were arranged in one unit of land to show an agroforestry practice where agriculture plants work together with trees to create better productivity and soil conservation capacity.

Selected commodities to plant was the result of participatory processes where local people shared their experiences in cultivation of various commodities. There had been almost no problem with growing any crop as farmers were skillful but it was identified that marketing assurance was the key to get farmers acceptance. These farmers had seen difficulties in marketing of their previous crops so they urged that any newly introduced commodity should have a marketing backup. The notion was resolved by setting up written agreement with a fruit trader in condition that farmers must source their papaya seedlings solely from their partner trader in order to have their harvest collected. The deal was made to value these papayas up to € 100 per ton with lowest price anticipated at € 66 per ton due to market fluctuation.

Thailand papaya was known for its thick, dense, and sweet flesh. It is also renown for its physical durability during transport because of its hard texture and therefore having huge demands from traditional markets and industries. By using organic farming approach, the result was quite satisfying in producing papaya of around 2 – 3 kg each, and as testified by the trader, tasted sweeter than any other source or location. Transaction was fairly easy because the trader picked up papaya directly to house of farmers group chief. Papayas were pilled accordingly to names of respective farmer and money was collected in cash by the chief. In case of price drop, farmers would sell their papaya to local store and nearest market at relatively higher price but only for a quantity of around 50 kg per delivery.

Though this story is quite obsolete by now, I am still proud of how the works was done to create success in making some 15 hectares of private lands back to its productivity. While villagers were still very busy rebuilding their houses with government support, they managed to allocate some times to participate in landscape restoration works. Once it came to make deal in trading, no farmer was trying to calculate inputs embeded in producing papaya crops so that net production costs becoming main consideration. It was only trust to make negotiation ran smoothly. Famers put trust in trader because the supplied seedlings was proven successful in producing high quality fruits while trader was committed to agreement made for mutual partnership.

At the end of project term I was lucky to witness a farmer trying to expand his papaya farm. Without any financial assistance from outside, he planted papaya in some 0.25 hectare of his previous home garden. Money was generated from selling lava materials excavation and the seedlings were sourced from his only business partner, the papaya trader. Would this partnership continue in the long run? I had no idea. What I remembered certainly was the smile upon my farmer’s face as we took picture of his newly built farm. Probably, only my farmer could understand why he himself stood as a farmer in one of the most active volcano in Java Island. My heart was touched by his perseverance in cultivating the land of intimate natural disaster, as I shook his right hand for a farewell.

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