Indonesia: The Almukatin family in times of COVID-19
It’s a 1 ha farm that belongs to the family of Pak Almukatin. Together with his wife and two daughters, he grows coffee, pepper, chili, ginger and areca nuts. Located in Sebaja village in the ICP-project region of Southern Sumatra the family lives in one of the major Robusta-producing regions of Indonesia. “With the Corona-crisis we saw a decrease in income from farm products and increase in price of food and living costs,” Almukatin tells. As a result, many families savings in the region are already eaten up and therefore they have difficulties to invest for the next crop cycles.
Less for coffee and higher food prices
“The coffee harvest and selling season is just around the corner, set to start in June, but the price of green coffee beans offered by local collectors here in Sebaja village has fallen from around IDR 17-18,000 per kg to currently 15-16,000 per kg,” tells Wimpi Mahendra, Field Officer of ICP’s implementing partner Hanns R. Neumann Stiftung (HRNS). The prices for the other farm produce had fallen as well since the crisis started.
"We are worried that they will fall further as travel restrictions hamper traders coming to the village to buy coffee"
On the flipside, prices in the local markets for items the Almukatin family needs to buy have increased and the necessary homeschooling for their children has tripled their monthly internet expenses.
The impact of the Coronavirus pandemic hits them as smallholders hard as they made a clear decision for rural livelihoods and now struggle with the live they choose to life. They had returned from city life in Bandar Lampung to live in Sebaja Village, Almutakin’s childhood home, 10 years ago. After buying 1 ha of vacant land, they planted it with coffee and pepper.
Three years ago, the family joined the Muda Jaya Farmer Group in order to register with the ICP project that is funded together with The J. M. Smucker Company. As the family progressed and started to grew additional crops, Wimpi identified Almutakin as a key farmer. In 2019, the Almutakin family harvested about 700 kg of coffee and 100 kg of pepper from their 1 ha land.
Continued support despite COVID-19
ICP’s support for the project farmers did not stop during COVID-19. Wimpi still can meet Almukatin under strict security measures to discuss how best they can guide and support other farmers in the neighbourhood. “They know that despite this year being challenging, it remains crucial that other farmers are taught how to increase coffee and overall farm production in future seasons,” says Wimpi adding: “Hopefully when prices have recovered.”
Rewards in the coming years need investments now. Timely training is very important. In order to do this while minimizing the threat of potentially spreading COVID-19, Almukatin and Wimpi now focus guidance entirely on an individual farmer basis. “Rather than giving training sessions that bring 10-20 farmers together to learn about a topic in a central location, Almukatin and Wimpi visit individual farmers to give them direct feedback and advice on their farms,” elaborates Adrian Bolliger, Country Manager of ICP’s implementing partner HRNS, how ICP changed the approach.
While it takes more time and resources on the side of Almukatin and Wimpi, it is also highly appreciated by farmers and arguably a more tailored and effective method of training than through group sessions.
Using difficult times to innovate
The COVID-19 pandemic also becomes a time for innovation. Additionally, Almukatin and Wimpi, together with Atho Illa, an agronomist from implementing partner HRNS, are now also setting up a small demonstration plot on the Almukatin family land. HRNS provides inputs like shading nets and polybags in order to establish a small on-farm micro nursery of suitable crops that can be intercropped with the coffee or appropriate inorganic fertilizer. Almukatin and his wife Eli Kusumawati invest time and effort to set up the plot. “This plot will then be used to test the best-suited practices to boost overall farm resilience, and, at the same time, train neighboring farmers in these practices directly on the demo plot itself,“ explains agronomist Atho. The aim is to motivate farmers in the region to research and trial their own grassroots ideas and innovations that can make their overall farm production better equipped to meet the challenges of tough years like 2020.