Drought, floods, landslides, storms—these are just some examples of the havoc climate change wreaks on Indonesia’s smallholder cocoa farms. Since climate projections show that the next 50 years will be even worse for Indonesia’s agricultural sector, smallholders have no option but to learn to adapt to extreme weather and other effects of climate change, while producing fewer emissions so as not to create further damage to crops and livelihoods.
"In these past few years, especially last year, the drought followed by pests and diseases outbreak ruined my farms. I need to adapt to climate change, otherwise I will lose my farm."Mr. Daeng Matinri, a cocoa farmer in North Luwu
The Rainforest Alliance, through its collaborative project with agriculture giant Olam International, has been supporting farmers in South and Southeast Sulawesi, Indonesia, (as well as in other developing countries) to apply climate-smart agriculture (CSA) methods since 2015. As part of this ongoing work, a baseline survey was conducted in the spring and summer of 2016 to measure carbon status in the project area, with the aim of understanding the potential for increasing carbon stocks (through protecting trees, for example) and the impact of farmers using climate-smart farming methods. The project’s effect on deforestation, inputs, and yields was measured, and the effects of optimal practices, like increasing the number of shade trees, were also assessed. The impacts of financial literacy trainings, another aspect of this project, were assessed as well, using surveys and farmer interviews.
To do this baseline research, the Rainforest Alliance gathered a team of local young people to help perform interviews, measure biomass on cocoa farms and nearby forests, and on other crop farms. These industrious young people and the Rainforest Alliance worked every work day for four months, visiting farms and farmer homes. Despite experiencing drought and floods, most farmers here had never heard the term climate change—but were eager to understand it and to learn farming methods that increased their yields without creating greenhouse gas emissions that could ultimately worsen their situation. For its part, the Rainforest Alliance team learned about the farmers’ perspective on cocoa production.
“It's very impressive how cocoa farmers in North Luwu can have very productive (cocoa) farms. They do a good job pruning and grafting and I got so much to learn from them—but they use too much fertilizer!" said, Ahmad Irfan Z, a recent graduate from a local university who worked with us to gather data. Many farmers we surveyed mistakenly believed that the more fertilizer they use, the more their cocoa trees will produce—when in fact, excessive fertilizer only serves to increase greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn lead to more climate events that can damage cocoa farms.
Mr. Daeng Matinri, a cocoa farmer in North Luwu, said, "My cocoa production rate was quite steady—even increasing before 2010—but in these past few years, especially last year, the drought followed by pests and diseases outbreak ruined my farms. I had to use a new strategy to avoid harvest failure. I need to adapt to climate change, otherwise I will lose my farm." Many farmers were curious about biomass measurement and helped the team set up plots and measure tree height. “I didn't know that trees could be this important!” Iwan, a farmer who supported us in the field, said. “I know they are good for my cocoa, to protect the cocoa bushes from the heat, but really? Trees can save us from global warming?" Now Iwan understands the critical role trees can play in helping his farm and community survive climate change.
The Rainforest Alliance will share the results of this research with farmers and stakeholders once data has been processed. The results will not only provide a baseline for the Rainforest Alliance’s work with smallholder farmers in the region, but will offer government and other stakeholders useful information for planning land-use strategies that keep forests standing and build climate resilience.