23 October 2013

After Bricks, No More Crops?

Indonesian farmers harvesting rice

In many countries, economic expansion and population growth has led to an increased demand for houses and office buildings. And if there is one thing you need to build over here in Indonesia, then it is “a brick”.

The link between “agriculture” and “brick making” might not be obvious at first, but if I were to say that here, in Indonesia, my home country, the brick making process needs soil’s upper layer parts, then you might say “aha”…: Indeed, the soil’s top layer is also the fertile part, the part needed for agriculture.

And here is the sad story I witnessed over the past decades: The bricks industries would seek farmland owners to rent their plots.  Under economical pressure, these farmland owners are often forced to sell their soil’s upper layer part. In accordance with the size of their land, they receive an amount of money as compensation, which is not worth the loss of fertile land for a long time period.
After the bricks industry ripped off the upper layer parts of the soil with an average depth of one to three meters, the farmers’ plots turn hard and infertile.

The farm land owners generally do not know the effective way to recover the land’s fertility beside continuing to cultivate the land as they did before: This in its turn impacts their productivity.

Within a period of 30 years, Indonesia has lost about two million hectares of agricultural land from residential development and its derivatives. Bricks and tiles production not only takes away valuable topsoil, reducing the land’s future productivity, but also causes soil erosion, a huge problem in regions with high rainfall.

Agroforestry as a solution

I have witnessed the loss of farming land to the bricks industry from close by, and have worked with a local youth organization on an Eco-Social Project called “Agroforestry Project” as a solution for this major problem.

The goal of the “Agroforestry Project” is to recover farm land’s fertility and productivity, which has been damaged by bricks industry.

Agroforestry intentionally combines agriculture and forestry to create integrated and sustainable land-use systems. We typically use two or more crops, and least one   woody perennial. In order to rehabilitate the land, pulses (e.g. peanuts) can be chosen as an agricultural crop due to its ability in absorbing nitrogen, helping to rehabilitate the land’s fertility. Pulses have also a short productivity period i.e. three to five months, giving the farmers an income through a short-term investment.

Tree crops used in intercropping method in agroforestry, we mostly use Albizia (Albizia Falcataria) trees. This tree was chosen because it helps preventing land erosion and the structures of its leaves and branches don’t block the sunlight radiation on crops. Albizia is a productive tree as well, so farmers can sell its wood after the tree is  5-7 years old. This makes the trees a medium term investment for the farmers. In a number of farm land areas, we also cultivate bananas due to its economical value in the land’s productivity.

Additionally, compost injection can both accelerate the growth of trees and increase the land productivity. Compost can be made from cattle’s waste and farm’s waste, i.e. paddy dried hay, which is usually burnt with garbage. The compost fertilizer can be mixed with soil while cultivating the land or it is injected to soil with depth of half a meter at the time of Albizia tree planting.

This agroforestry method has become a model to be re-implemented in every damaged farm land areas so farmers’ welfare would be increased.

Our Agroforestry Project is not only a land rehabilitation project but also designed as local economic booster and was chosen as the winner of E-Idea Asia Pacific Competition in 2011 and was awarded as the Indonesia Young Muslim Creation Award 2012. On 15 October 2012, our project was awarded as the World Champion in “What is Out There?“, a competition by the Saudi-Spanish Center for Islamic Economics and Finance (SCIEF), in Madrid, Spain.

Our Agroforestry Project also established social fund through the Project called “My Tree, My Saving for Education”. Currently, we have 362 students and their school fees are covered by this environment-social project.

Blogpost based on input by Anton Abdul Fatah
Edited by Francklin Bakawa Agbandou and Peter Casier
Uploaded by Laicana Coulibaly
Picture courtesy Lumbung Desa