A Women Farmers’ Group Driving Adoption of Agriculture, Economic Empowerment & Environmental Sustainability

Reaching a height of 2,968 metres, Mount Merapi is Indonesia’s most active volcano and undisputedly one of the most dangerous. Frequent eruptions of this volcano—a dominant feature of the landscape of Central Java and the Javanese history and culture—have been responsible for the death and displacement of thousands of people living in proximity. Rampant illegal mining threatened the existence of lava retaining walls, destroying catchment areas and drying up wells. In absence of any other livelihood option, the local communities chose to pursue sand mining at the cost of the environment, until a women farmers’ group started turning things around.

The beginning of a change

The story has its roots in Balerante village in Klaten district of Indonesia’s Central Java Province. Located in the south of Mount Merapi, the village is close to the rivers that have sand deposits from Merapi eruptions. This was a major draw for villagers who depended on the sand deposits for their livelihood—even while risking their lives. Mining accidents were frequent and so were the deaths of illegal miners. The severity of the situation eventually called for convincing people to replace mining with agriculture, as the land was suitable for cultivation. This is when Solidaridad launched the Sustainable Mount Merapi Landscape Programme in 2016.

Solidaridad found a driven and resolute partner in Mekar Indah women’s farmer group when the latter became involved in the implementation of the landscape development programme towards the end of 2016. The group, which was established with the support of Mrs. Kendri, a champion in women’s movement in Balerante village, started working towards reducing dependency on illegal mining activities and developing low-carbon agriculture practices, besides improving access to nutrition and household income. It adopted a layered approach to bring a normative change in livelihood and prevent manifold damages that illegal sand mining was causing to the region.

Being empowered by a series of sessions on skills and knowledge development on good agricultural practices, organisational management and group financial management by the Solidaridad, the Mekar Indah group started its journey towards sustainable transformation of the local landscape. In 2017, the first year of its operations, the group developed a nursery and encouraged cultivation of vegetables in the hitherto neglected cultivation areas.

The yield of chillies, eggplants, tomatoes, and broccolis could cater to the increasing market demand as well as adequately meet household needs. In a parallel effort, the members of the group were encouraged to establish a saving mechanism and a collective marketing system. The programme, which started with supporting 18 villagers in Balerante towards developing agricultural activities in the first year, has now more than 10,000 people in its fold.

Improving income, expanding market and strengthening women groups

The women farmers’ group took a huge leap towards increasing household income when it received IDR 85-million fund from the Yayasan Baitul Maal, a CSR arm of the Bank Rakyat Indonesia (a public financial institution of Indonesia) to run an income generation programme at the household level through chili cultivation. The result was commendable: a 30-50% increase in household income. Before long, the group became a go-to destination among other groups and villages that evinced interest in agriculture. The village government of Balerante took note of the success of Mekar Indah group and provided a revolving fund worth IDR 5,000,000 for procuring agricultural equipment.

The women’s farmer group sells liquid fertiliser as part of it Group Business Unit

In 2019, Mekar Indah took a couple of decisive steps towards empowering local communities both in terms of economic and environmental well-being. It steered the establishment of a Group Business Unit, which sells liquid organic fertilisers, and a Collective Vegetable Marketing Unit. Both these units helped the community build awareness on environment-friendly agricultural practices. In the same year, Mekar Indah established five other women farmers’ groups in Sidorejo and Tegalmulyo Villages—Subur Makmur, Tani Mulyo, Rejeki Agung, Ngudi Lestari and Rejeki Barokah—comprising 86 members. By the end of 2019, Mekar Indah had facilitated empowerment of women farmers in three villages in the region prone to Mount Merapi eruption.

The group’s next focus was on organisational development. The already productive 2019 saw another win when Mekar Indah collaborated with the village government for development of female farmer group (FFG) activities, involving IDR100-million village fund for the implementation of the programme in 2020. While Mekar Indah has become a marketing channel for coffee produced by other villages, a good organisational management system allowed women farmers’ groups to expand the market for onions from three villages in Mount Merapi and Mount Merbabu area.

The women’s group, Mekar Indah, has had a positive impact on the community and the women involved

Only three years into its inception, Mekar Indah—a women’s group with no prior experience in agricultural activities—has made a mark by demonstrating a positive impact in eight villages in Mount Merapi Merbau area. It has convinced communities to transition from mining to agriculture, set new benchmarks and become a role model for the others to learn from and get inspired. This transformation—guided by the programme—is supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of Netherlands and implemented by Business Watch Indonesia and Solidaridad.