Making Indonesia's Cocoa Farms More Climate Resilient

Ever since she was a teenager, Gusti Ayu Fransiska Dewi has been singularly focused on climate change resilience and environmental health. She won a spot to study environmental issues with an NGO in her native Bali, Indonesia, and went on to obtain a bachelor’s degree in environmental science and an M.A. in environmental and community land planning at the State University of New York, Syracuse. But even with years of rigorous study under her belt, Fransiska said she has learned the most from the cocoa farmers she works with as a Rainforest Alliance field coordinator in Sulawesi, Indonesia.

"They are a living example of how to help both the Earth and the community. I truly learn so much from them,” she said. “They take only what they need, rather than pushing to achieve optimum production at the expense of local ecosystems. It's an indigenous way of thinking."

As a field coordinator focused on climate, Fransiska trains the cocoa farmers in climate-smart agricultural methods that build their farms’ resilience to drought, shorter rainy seasons, and severe weather events.

Studies suggest that Indonesia’s climate, which has already warmed significantly, will continue to become more extreme in the coming years—with water shortages likely to affect South Sulawesi (a province of the island of Sulawesi, where Fransiska often works). Drought can weaken cocoa trees, thereby making them susceptible to pests and diseases that are already affecting new regions as global temperatures climb. Farming techniques that work in harmony with nature are especially critical on the southern tip of Sulawesi, one of the Earth’s biodiversity hotspots—and that is why the Rainforest Alliance is doing intensive climate resilience training in the region.

"I moved from Bali to Sulawesi to do this job, and I basically give my life to it. But it doesn’t feel like work because I love what I’m doing."

Fransiska Dewi, Rainforest Alliance field coordinator

The Rainforest Alliance has been working in Indonesia since the late 1990s, first through forestry certification (assisting large-scale industrial firms to make their timber harvesting practices more sustainable), and more recently, in agriculture, one of the primary drivers of deforestation in the region. Over the past several years, we have expanded our work in Southeast Asia in response to urgent conservation challenges.

Today 457,000 acres (185,000 ha) of farmland across the region are currently Rainforest Alliance Certified™, with 75 percent of that land managed by smallholders. That makes training in best agricultural practices vitally important. As part of the project that Fransiska leads, cocoa farmers learn that commonly used synthetic fertilizers contribute to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change; as an alternative, they use organic farm waste for composting. Likewise, they use mahogany leaves and other medicinal forest plants to naturally combat pests and diseases. Other climate-smart agriculture strategies include planting cover crops to help improve soil health and retain moisture, as well as digging trenches to funnel away excess rainwater.

Training cocoa farmers in Sulawesi, Indonesia

Field training for cocoa farmers in Sulawesi

While Fransiska is extremely serious about sharing climate resilience techniques, she characterizes her interactions with farmers and their families as joyful. “We always have a lot of laughs because of our misunderstandings—there are a lot of differences in languages and customs across Indonesia. And many farmers love to sing! It’s so fun to listen to them.” Families often invite her to stay with them at the end of a long work day. “They treat me as a daughter, which I find flattering.”

It’s all-consuming work, but Fransiska doesn’t mind. “I moved from Bali to Sulawesi to do this job,” Fransiska said, “And I basically give my life to it. But it doesn’t feel like work because I love what I’m doing.”

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