|Emma in front of new, high capacity biogas/compost setup|
This is my friend Emma. Emma runs a small non-government organization (NGO) called Lembaga Tumbuh Alami, or "LTA" for short. Emma and LTA were one of my official sponsors and partners while I was in
doing my dissertation fieldwork, and over the course of my year there I had the
opportunity to work closely with LTA and observe and participate in some of
their projects. Emma and LTA have been
administering projects in and around for about a decade now. LTA focuses on the environment and one of
their main objectives is to support Kerinci
Park (where I was doing my fieldwork), but there
is a strong commitment to social justice that plays an important part in LTA's
philosophy. In other words, Emma and LTA
believe that the only way the park can survive is to help the people living
around the park improve their livelihoods so that their dependency on the park
decreases. LTA's programs attempt to
train farmers and other villagers so that they are less likely to enter the
park to hunt illegally, cut down trees, or encroach. Kerinci
The LTA Organic Compost/Biogas Project
One of LTA's signature projects involves decrease farmers' dependence on chemical fertilizers. Farmers across Sumatra and throughout
Indonesia in general have a pretty
heavy reliance on expensive, synthetically-produced fertilizers. While these fertilizers usually increase
yields, they are expensive, in some cases contributing to farmers being mired
in a cycle of debt, and there are real questions about the long-term impacts of
the fertilizers on the health of the soil.
In addition, there are also concerns about the effects of fertilizers
towards the health of people. Moreover,
excess fertilizer running into streams can have very significant impacts on the
ecology of streams.
With all these things in mind LTA began a project a few years ago aimed at replacing at least some of the chemical fertilizers with organic fertilizer produced from livestock manure and the waste left over when rice and other crops are harvested. The idea was to construct small holding bins and tanks where organic waste could be stored. Although organic waste will break down naturally, this takes time, so the LTA project introduces an active micro-organism to speed up the process. After a couple of months of decay and fermentation, the organic compost is ready to be spread on crops.
|Organic compost ready to use.|
A sizeable quantity of methane is produced from this process as well. Methane is quite combustible and can be used as a fuel, so the LTA compost project utilizes a system to collect the methane. Pipes then deliver the methane to a burner or other household appliance, and so in addition to receiving free, healthy organic compost, the participating farmers get enough fuel to operate 1-1 gas burners, which is sufficient to boil water or cook rice, the two primary uses cooking fuel in the villages here. In many villages the primary cooking fuel is wood, and so the gas has a number of really significant benefits: 1) villagers don't have to spend time looking for firewood; 2) they can save money if they formerly bought firewood; 3) pressure on the forest is decreased because there isn't as much wood being taken for cooking fires; 4) biogas burns cleaner, and since most cooking is done inside the house there are health benefits from decreasing reliance on wood for cooking.
The compost/biogas project has had significant impacts on the areas where it's been introduced. Here are a couple of testimonials:
|Stove fueled by biogas|
Since the "biogas" has been installed in my house I've felt extremely blessed and I've greatly decreased my expenditures, especially for fuel oil and wood. After the biogas station went into operation, the gas has been used to cook food, sambal, and rice. I use the fertilizer that results from the "biogas to fertilize the crops in my field and the result has been quite good. I've been able to cut down on my use of fertilizer by 40% compared with before I had the biogas station.... Agusrianto,
In April of 2010 a biogas station was built at my house and just one month after that I had gas. The gas that comes from the biogas station is used to heat water and cook our food and sambal. Since then I don't have to look for wood in my land to cook and the fertilizer that comes from the biogas station I use on my rice paddy. Usually I use 3 karungs (unit of measurement equivalent to 50 kilograms) of chemical fertilizer at 150,000 rupiah (about US$17) per karung every time I work the paddy. Thus the total cost of fertilizer is 450,000 rupiah (about US$51). The first year I used the biogas fertilizer I decreased my chemical fertilizer use by 1 karung, in the second year I decreased it by two, and my plan in the third year is to abandon chemical fertilizer all together for my paddy.....Bustanudin, Kemantan Hilir Village
After the biogas station went into operation I used the gas to cook and the fertilizer to fertilize my crops. The fertilizer that results from the biogas, according to my experience, is really good for the crops in my land, like onions, chili peppers, cabbage, tomatoes, and corn. Since I've been using the fertilizer I can save up to 75% of what I used to spend on fertilizer. Since I've been using the biogas fertilizer my friends in my farmers' group really want to use it as well but I can't yet meet their needs because I don't produce enough fertilizer. From the money I've saved I'm able to put away something for my retirement and to buy things we need to improve our living conditions, like a refrigerator, fresh water dispenser, household goods, and other things....Suyitno, Kebun Baru
Though all of these comments are from men, the biogas that results from the process also benefits women, who are normally in charge of the household, including cooking and cleaning. Interviews with women indicate that on average users of biogas have been able to decrease their expenditures on wood by 50%. The biogas program is slowly expanding, but like many local NGOs LTA faces limitations in terms of funding and personnel. Emma told me that she's actually turned down funding that would enable her to scale up the project (I actually witnessed Emma refusing money from a large international donor for another project) because these types of agreements often come with deadlines and timetables. Emma told me that projects like the biogas/compost initiative require a great deal from villagers; they have to change their mindsets and the way they do things, and that is frequently very difficult for them. They usually aren't enthusiastic about abandoning tried-and-true methods for new tools and techniques that have yet to be proven, at least, for them. So there are challenges getting programs like this up and running, and because of this Emma doesn't like to be in a position where she has to rush results. She also refuses to let her projects and programs be used as political tools, and so there have been instances where she has turned down offers of assistance from the government as well.
Emma's Organic Coffee
|My good friend Jakob, organic coffee farmer explaining the |
business in Kayu Aro
Emma also has a "side project" outside of her work with LTA: she provides organic arabica coffee seedlings and training to farmers in Kerinci district. Though this project is for profit, Emma incorporates principles of ecofriendly sustainable agriculture in her business. Emma and her partners set up a nursery to grow arabica seedlings a few years ago in Kayu Aro, Kerinci. Emma employs local women to work in the nursery, and she sells seedlings at slightly below market prices to interested farmers. These farmers have to agree that they will not grow the coffee in the national park (illegal coffee farming inside the park is a major problem), and in exchange they get guidance and support from Emma and her partners. Emma also tries to incorporate organic fertilizer as much as possible. After two years, when the coffee is ready to be harvested, Emma buys the coffee for export. Most of the coffee grown in this area is robusta and is produced for the domestic market, so many farmers are eager to partake in the greater profits available to farmers that grow the higher-quality arabica. Emma already has more than 300 area farmers growing coffee for her.
Currently Emma markets the coffee through a consortium because her farmers don't yet produce enough to export it alone. But the program is rapidly expanding, and Emma has plans to create a Kerinci Coffee brand and market it around the world. She has already had the coffee graded by a professional taster, and it has achieved very high marks (I've tasted the coffee myself, and though I am not normally very sensitive to these sorts of things, I can honestly say that Emma's coffee is by far the best I've ever had). So in the near future, you may see Organic Kerinci Coffee at a supermarket (or Starbucks) near you. Do yourself a favor and have a cup; you won't be disappointed. And you'll be helping out small-scale farmers on Sumatra.