​​​​​​Agroforestry: Solution to Reduce Land Conversion

Indonesia​​     English

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As Lela Kabeakan, the Chief of Surung Mersada Village, Pakpak Bharat District, North Sumatra, looked at her cultivated plot of land, the future of her children became the first thing that crossed her mind.

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While Lela earns her livelihood from trade, she was actually raised in a farmer's family. That is why she, the mother of three boys, keeps a 1.5 hectare family-owned plot in her village.

"At first, I started by planting crops such as paddy, ground nut, and ginger. And now, we've just finished harvesting corn, turmeric, and Bogor nut," Lela explained.

Lela's planting method is known as tumpang sari (intercropping). It is a good practice of combining different crops for diversity and optimal use of land, while also very beneficial to support a household's economy.

However in practice, this method can also be damaging to forest areas. The crops absorb nutrients at a much faster rate, which means farmers have to move from one location to another to seek a fertile land. Meanwhile, forest makes up more than 70% of the total area in Lela's Sarung Mersada Village. It leaves moving from land to land a terrible option as it harms forest conservation and ecosystem services it offers.

On the other hand, there is an alternative environmental-friendly method that does not force the villagers to keep looking for a new land. It is called agroforestry, and it combines the old/slow-maturing crops with the young/quick-maturing crops. At its most simple application, this method combines one or two kinds of tree with several kinds of agricultural crop.

For experienced farmers like Lela and her fellow villagers, this practice is very easy to understand. When it's implemented, it would reduce the amount of nutrient loss and ensure that farmers do not need to expand their farm or convert forest areas.

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Encouraging farmers to adopt agroforestry and intensive farming in Pakpak Bharat District is one of the Conservation International's (CI) activities. Besides its benefit of natural resources conservation, this method also ensures the sustainability of agriculture as the villagers' main source of income.

After opening up to this new information, Lela became attracted to the method and successfully convinced 16 other female farmers to adopt it. Under Lela's leadership, they planted old trees on their plots as well as other 2-3 year old crops. They also filled the other side of the farms with young crops such as corn, which could be harvested in just 3-4 months.

In order to solve the issue of land fertility, Lela asked the female farmers in her village to participate in CI's training program on how to produce various kinds of organic fertilizer. Since then, several kinds of fertilizer have been made and applied on the young crops on their plots of land.

Lela saw agroforestry as the answer to her dream about the future of her children. Now, her plot had many kinds of trees planted, such as durian, petai, and jengkol, as well as one year old 400 orange trees. In June 2016, Lela and her female farmers' group managed to earn an additional income from selling their 8.1 kg/ton of corn.

"Being introduced to agroforestry has changed the cultivation method on my plot, as I realize it's a better system to use lands. [By using this system] we can have an area for fast-growing crops for harvesting now, as well as other area for the future," Lena concluded. (Syaiful Purba/September 9, ​2016)​

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