It’s an early morning start. The rainy season is in full swing in the Lampung Province, Southern Sumatra. Heavy rains in the afternoon means that we have to get up early to make the most of the day. Mr Taufiq, Robert and Leonardo, the agronomist team we work with and their field staff pick us up from our hotel in the small town of Liwa. Our mission today is to train the field staff in conducting the first monitoring after seedling plantation.
In November 2015, PUR Projet planted 30,000 trees in agroforestry models with 90 coffee farmers in this region thanks to the support of the Louis Dreyfus Foundation. Now three months after plantation, the team is following up on the success of the plantation by visiting the parcels of each participating farmer.
Today we are meeting the Subur Makmur farmers group. They await for us outside the primary school in the village of Sukabumi. After cheerful exchanges of ‘Salamat pagi! Pagi!!’ (Hello! Good morning!), we each jump on the back of a motorbike. The farmers drive with heart stopping speed down makeshift roads, often no wider than the wheel of the bike, winding through the coffee plantations.
We soon arrive at a cluster of small houses, perched on a hill surrounded by coffee farms. The plants are loaded with green berries but it will take another 3 months approximately until the coffee is ready for harvest. We are invited into the house of Mr Jiarto, where we sit on woven matts drinking sweet black coffee out of small glasses.
Mr Jiarto is among the 90 farmers that joined the agroforestry program last year. He received 230 tree seedlings, including species of timber and fruit trees as well as clover and nutmeg. He tells us that his favourite seedling was the avocado tree as he can sell the fruits for a high price at the local market. Like the other famers in this village, Mr Jiarto is heavily reliant on the coffee as it is his only source of income.
Planting different trees species within his parcel allows him to diversify his income through the sales of fruits and timber. Durian, a tree producing large fruits with a strong smell, is another favourite of the farmers. Not only is the smelly fruit considered a delicacy here but the deep roots of the tree are preventing erosion by binding the soil. Overall, Mr Jiarto is very pleased about his seedlings and is eager to show us his coffee parcel.
To reach the parcel we climb up a steep muddy trail, the sun burning on our backs. Once we reach his plantation, a plot covering 1.3ha of sloppy terrain, we begin the monitoring training with the field staff. At first we gather generic information about the farm such as the average coffee yield and the historic land use. All answers are recorded in electronic format on tablets to gain time and minimise error during monitoring. We then proceed to take the GPS track of the parcel.
Mr Jiarto leads the way, walking barefoot through the plantation. He moves with ease through the steep terrain, climbing up slippery slopes and jumping down small landslides. Walking along the borders we can already spot the seedlings clearly marked by sticks. In order to get the maximum benefits from agroforestry, it is essential to respect defined models determining the location and the spacing of seedlings.
Mr Jiarto has chosen the model 2b, which means planting seedlings along the boundary of this parcel as well as within his plantation. The seedlings planted on the border are mostly timber species, growing tall and strong to act as windbreaker thereby reducing soil erosion.
As we reach the highest point of the parcel, we are treated to a breath-taking view over the valley. Coffee plantations as far as the eye can see! But there are also large areas completely cut clear. The bare earth glow orange in the midday sun, black tree stumps pointing towards the sky. The parcel of Mr Jiarto is in sharp contrast to this desolate sight – his coffee plants are of a lush green, the seedlings trees are rapidly growing, and the understory is alive with crawling insects and reptiles. Coffee is a forest plant and thrives when planted in combination with other species. Planting in an agroforestry model has therefore a direct positive impact on the coffee yield, assuring sustained production in the long term. Continuous monitoring allows us to measure and quantify these benefits.
The next step in the training is to count each individual seedling received by the farmer in order to assess mortality. For each live tree the farmer will receive a small sum of money as an incentive to care for the trees. It is not an easy task to find the seedling but Mr Jiarto knows his parcel well and points the field staff in the right direction. It takes us over 2 hours but at the end everybody is satisfied. Tired but smiling we return to Mr Jairto’s hut, where a copious lunch awaits us: chicken with rice and fried bananas. After the lunch we thank the family for their hospitality and make our goodbyes. The farmers drive us back on the motorbikes before the rain makes it impossible to drive on the makeshift roads.
What a day – sunburned and with aching limbs wit return to the agrohouse for a training debrief. The field staff now faces the huge task to monitor each parcel and count a total of 30,000 seedlings within the next weeks. But they are confident, seeing the smile of farmers when they receive their seedlings is a powerful motivation!