Lack of knowledge may impede economic potential

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Interviewing farmers in Southcentral Timor. Photo by Purnomo Sumardamto/ICRAF

Farmers in Java and Nusa Tenggara, Indonesia lack information on teak cultivation and non-timber forest products, leaving them with inadequate skills to improve their livelihoods.

Aside from irrigated rice, horticulture and plantation crops, both timber and non-timber forest products are also sources of income for farmers in many areas in Indonesia. For example, in Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta, 12 percent of household incomes derive from teak while in West Nusa Tenggara Province, the local government named honey as a flagship product with more than 12,000 households harvesting honey and farming bees. However, to optimize production, farming practices require knowledge, which is not always easy to obtain.

A study by researchers in the Developing and Promoting Market-based Agroforestry Options and Integrated Landscape Management for Smallholder Forestry in Indonesia (Kanoppi 2) project, supported by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research and the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry (FTA), found that available forestry extension (agricultural advice) services are limited owing to insufficient human resources, learning material and budget. Conducted in 2013 and 2015, the research focused on three districts: Gunungkidul in Yogyakarta; Sumbawa in West Nusa Tenggara; and Timor Tengah Selatan in East Nusa Tenggara. Using a mix of data collection techniques, insights from 500 farmers, extension agents, and extension agency representatives were mined to assess conditions and develop options for intervention.

The research team found only 28 percent of interviewed farmers had received extension advice. This was because the number of extension agents was low compared with the number of villages that they served.  In some cases, these agents handled more than one village, sometimes located in secluded areas, making it challenging to do their job. There was a lack of regeneration, too, with the average age of extension agents being 45 years-old. One of the respondents mentioned that age was a contributing factor that limited agents from working because of decreased physical ability.

Group discussion with farmers in Gunungkidul. Photo by Riyandoko/ICRAF

The extension services in Indonesia have been through major changes, especially, with the passing of Law No. 16/2006, which shifted the authority to conduct extension programs to sub-districts, away from the national level. Subjects that were previously handled by different ministries and departments are now managed under a body called Extension Agency. The law also requires agents to be ‘polyvalent’ or able to provide assistance on various topics ranging from agriculture through fisheries to forestry. In reality, extension agents are generally fluent in only one specialized topic, hence, the polyvalent demand has added another load to agents’ many burdens.

Underlying these challenges, the research team found that budget was a key issue. Wagimin, the extension coordinator at the Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Extension Agency in Karangmojo sub-district in Gunungkidul said the operational budget per month for each extension worker was a mere IDR 112,000 (≈ USD 8.20), which was far from enough. In Sumbawa, the annual budget tended to decrease because the extension program was not prioritized by the local government.

A similar situation occurred in Timor Tengah Selatan, where the budget submitted for regional funding was rarely approved. Because it was not prioritized, the dissemination of forestry information remained limited. What farmers mostly received focused on cultivation, nursery and conservation with no marketing and policy aspects. Additionally, there was no forestry extension material being produced, which further hindered farmers’ learning ability.

The research recommended that forestry extension programs should not rely on government alone. In the study areas, non-governmental organizations and private companies were providing extension programs, thus, collaboration should be established in order to increase reach and provide better quality advice. Moreover, voluntary forestry extension agents drawn from the community, who are available in the areas, should be engaged in government programs. Cooperation with research institutions also needs to be fostered so that farmers have access to up-to-date material.

To follow up on the research recommendations, the project held a workshop to help farmers develop work plans and collaborated with the local Extension Agency, other partners and private bodies to conduct training that included voluntary extension agents and leading farmers. For example, in Gunungkidul, farmers were taught how to cultivate and preserve bamboo while farmers in Timor Tengah Selatan were trained in making natural colouring from indigo. Visits to bee farms and a bee research village were also arranged for farmers in Sumbawa to learn how to gain additional income from honey.

Kanoppi 2 aims to improve farmers’ livelihoods through better landscape-scale management, with particular attention on maximizing the adoption of enhanced practices and value chains for timber and non-timber forest products.

By Enggar Paramita and Robert Finlayson, originally published at ICRAF’s Agroforestry News.

This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry. ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre is one of the 15 members of the CGIAR, a global partnership for a food-secure future. We thank all donors who support research in development through their contributions to the CGIAR Fund.

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