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The new planting season is bringing new opportunities for indigenous Dayak women in Ketapang, West Kalimantan. Alpina Rupina and friends from Simpang Dua have started to use sustainable farming practices that they learned from farmer field schools, are protecting the forest, and are now developing business ideas so they can become economically independent.
“I have made organic liquid fertilizers and pesticides, am trying grafting and ways to increase vegetable production,” says Alpina, “and, our latex rubber yields have already increased after we tried a new tapping system that we learned in the farmer field school.”
Not many women used to participate in agricultural and forestry training programmes, that were usually designed for land managers, almost always men... A core principle of farmer field schools is however, that both women and men are encouraged to participate and learn together. Alpina’s husband was very interested to attend, but couldn’t as he had a job outside the village. So Alpina represented the family, and shared her new knowledge and skills with her husband, and tried them together on the family’s fields. She is also responsible for growing their upland paddy rice, but never before had the chance to learn new technique to improve their rice yields.
Florentina Fransiska is the family breadwinner along with her son. She questioned joining the farmer field school, but quickly became very interested in all the activities and felt that what she learned was very useful, especially zero burning in rice paddies. “When I harvested after four months, the yield and quality had increased, and we needed to spend less time weeding” she said. Villagers thought that burning improves soil nutrition and crop yields, so out of 20 trainees, at first only Florentina agreed to experiment, along with another farmer who had already tried it. Following her successes, Fransiska inspired many others to adopt zero burning.
In Kamora, people used to buy their vegetables from people outside the village. So using skills learned from training, Ibu Titin Sumarni decided to start a producer group to supply better quality vegetables at a lower price. Now, the group’s 12 women and 3 men are reaping the rewards. Ibu Titin also encouraged Tropenbos Indonesia to transfer knowledge and skills to junior high school students, using new courses agreed with the headteacher. “The children of Kamora are children of farmers, so they need to know how to farm from the earliest age” she said. “Whether they will become farmers in the future or not is another issue, they should learn about good agricultural practices at school.”
Farmer field schools are a proven means for transferring new knowledge and techniques to smallholders. The method was introduced by Tropenbos Indonesia in 2020 as part of efforts to protect the forests and traditional land uses of indigenous Dayak communities using sustainable management and business models. In the first two years, 36 women have been trained alongside 68 men, so more must still be done to improve women participation. When the programme started, the facilitator explained that it was not only for heads of households, and this increased women’s participation.
As a participatory learning method, farmer field schools are seen as the best approach for promoting new farming techniques in Dayak communities. People understand the context of their area and analyze results based on their own observations. And as seen with Alpina, Florentina and Ibu Titin, women have emerged as local champions, spreading sustainable practices amongst their villages.