They were both starting a new life together as a young farmer couple. Suwarni helped him tap rubber and taught him basic farming techniques. Although farming was never far from her since her parents are also farmers, but they mostly cultivated rice and vegetable crops while Suwarni and Hermen cultivated rubber instead.
Life was hard. They had days when food was scarce, money was next to nothing and rubber sales were not too profitable. They earned on average of US $70 per month, sometimes even less. They were struggling to make ends meet and Suwarni had to grow some vegetables in her backyard to augment their income.
A humble beginning
After a couple of years, the family started their own oil palm plantation with just one hectare of land beside of the rubber farm. Things begun to get brighter as they started to cultivate oil palm. In 2011, they bought a wooden shack from a relative at a very reduced price and began to live separately from Hermen’s parents. Suwarni helped her husband do the manual labour in the small plantation of theirs.
In 2012, Hermen and his parents joined Credit Union Keling Kumang’s Farmers’ Field School where they obtained more knowledge on oil palm farming and cultivation. Pregnant with their second daughter at that time, Suwarni could not attend the training, but she got her share of knowledge from Hermen and his parents. She went to the plantation and helped as much as she could. While Hermen was usually doing the hard work of harvesting, she would be collecting the loose fruits, piling up the midribs and spread the fertilizers. Everything was done according to the module of the farmer school.
The Farmers' Field School
Suwarni is a smart young farmer who can quickly absorb new information. Together with Hermen, she managed the oil palm plantation using the knowledge he learned from the Farmers’ Field School. After a couple of years, they then decided to submit a loan proposal to Credit Union Keling Kumang to buy another piece of land for oil palm plantation purpose.
They currently own six hectares of oil palm estate that they manage by themselves. They went ahead and invested in their first motorbike to help their mobility. In 2015, they finally started building their own dream house, which will cost them around US $30,000, next to their wooden shack.
They will still keep the wooden shack and shift its function to a storage facility. “This house was the witness of our struggle. We started everything in this house, so we will never have the heart to knock it down. It reminds us of our roots. We’d like it to stand as it is,” Suwarni said with a nostalgic expression in her face.
Towards a brighter future
Starting from US $70 per month or even less, now their average monthly income from palm oil alone is US $1,200. There were even times when their income reached as high as US $2,300 a month. They still keep the rubber plantation and tap rubber too, but income from this crop now serves as their “rainy day funds” while their main income is generated through the palm oil.
“We had our shares of hard times, and I cannot say things are not difficult today but I dare say that we have made a lot of changes that matter and are progressing our lives. We certainly live more comfortably now without worrying about where the next meal will come from…” said Hermen.
Hermen, Suwarni and their family are members of Credit Union Keling Kumang and are an integral part of Solidaridad's programme – Improved Livelihoods in West Kalimantan, Indonesia.
Benefits of farmer financial services
Hermen and his parents are members of the Keling Kumang fraternity and have been actively involved the local farmers’ community while still managing their oil palm estate and rubber plantation. Suwarni still helps her husband with the plantation and in her spare time she also does a little bit of teaching at the local pre-school where her youngest daughter goes to school.
Hermen’s parents are now living with them in their newly built house. “The house is not completely ready and there is still a lot to be done, but we are getting there,” Suwarni said proudly.
When asked about what is the meaning of sustainable farming for her, Suwarni replied smartly, “Sustainable farming means that we respect and understand fully the bounties Mother Nature has given us and protect it for the future of our children…”
This programme is supported by Solidaridad, BASF and Henkel.