Wasti Atmodjo, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar
Farmers have been using the vast tracts of semi-arid land and degraded land in Kubu district, Karangasem regency, for cashew nut production.
The cashew nut plantations have become the primary source of income for hundreds of families in a program that has been so successful that its coordinators was recently named the winner of a food resilience award, to be handed over by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono on Nov. 15.
"We're grateful we can work better. I hope we can survive so that more farmers can enjoy the benefits of this program," said Nyoman Menget Adriasa, 40, the coordinator of the five farmers groups in Kubu that are united under subak abian (farmers who work on dry land).
The five subak abian groups consist of Subak Pulesari with membership of 55 farmers covering 96.5 hectares, Tunas Mekar with 86 members and 97.85 hectares, Subak Giri Celagi with 74 farmers and 158.1 hectares, Subak Bhuana Kusuma with 87 members and 191.75 hectares and Subak Pertiwi Palasari with 61 members and 56 hectares.
According to Menget, each member owns 1.5 hectares of land on average. Menget himself owns 2.7 hectares.
In 1985, local farmers started utilizing the unproductive land at the foot of Mount Agung to plant cashew nuts. They started to enjoy the fruits of their hard work in 1994, even though their harvests had not been optimal.
The farmers always ended up on the losing side in determining prices. The most disheartening thing was that buyers did not pay cash straight out, but in installments, Menget said.
The result was predictable. Many farmers were frustrated and lost the spirit to continue cultivating the land.
Aside from that, Menget said, many youngsters left for Denpasar in search of jobs in hospitality. However, the 2002 Kuta bombings caused many tourism workers to return home.
"Many of them had to return to farming as it was the only way they could survive," he said.
In 2005, assistance was provided by VECO Indonesia, an non-governmental organization specializing in giving support in sustainable agricultural development, in the form of consultants who later worked in cooperation with the Bali Plantation Office, Karangasem regency and foreign investment company PT Profil Mitra Abadi from Jakarta.
The organic cashew plantations were later certified by the Institute for Market-ecology (IMO).
Imam Suharto, the learning and information management section manager of VECO Indonesia, said the farmers were prohibited from using chemical fertilizers and insecticides.
"The control covers technical assistance from production to post-harvest to marketing. During the harvest period, the cashew nuts are not picked, but left to fall by themselves, indicating they are fully ripe," he said.
Iman said the cashew nuts were divided into five kilogram lots, which were periodically checked to ensure the weight stayed the same.
"Each step has to be recorded. If there are any discrepancies, this shows there has been deceit," he said, adding that many of the farmers were not capable of preparing yearly audits or record-keeping systems.
In order to solve this problem, IMO sends officers out into the field to monitor and control the situation.
The IMO, Imam said, made external checks by cross-checking with the Internal Control System (ICS) and also the buyers. If the weight and quality was different, the IMO postponed the certification process, he said.
Out of the five farmers groups, two have got organic certification. Certified organic cashew nuts fetch Rp 8,500 per kilogram, while regular cashew nuts are sold to wholesalers for Rp 6,500-7,000.