Be sincere to get more

Indonesia, April 1, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Piva Bell/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Rice fields in Rima Jeunue village using the legowo paddy farming method. Photo: Piva Bell/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Piva Bell/Mercy Corps  </span>
    An agriculture extension agent talks to a rice farmer in Aceh Besar. Photo: Piva Bell/Mercy Corps

Legowo — this word has made me curious when I heard it for the first time from my colleague, who told me about this new paddy planting method. Mercy Corps introduced it to farmers in Aceh Besar over the last couple of years. Since "legowo" means "sincere" in the Javanese language, questions suddenly come up in my mind. What a wise name. Why did they name it as "legowo"? Do my colleagues know about the meaning of that word? Is there any connection between the meanings of the word with the way how its works?

I think it's particularly interesting since most of the name of methods usually has to do with the name of a person who invented it or the name of a thing. So very interesting!

As my colleague Mr. Isnaini, began to explain, I started to get answers to all the questions spinning around in my mind. Apparently, it is true that the name really interprets how the method works — it really asks the farmers to be sincere.

The legowo planting method invites all of the farmers to be sincere in giving more space for their paddy — 40 cm (15 inches) from one paddy planting to another instead of the 20 cm (eight inches) that's typical around here — in order to get more yields in harvest time. The idea is, by having more space, the plants can get more food, more sunshine for their growth and be easier to clean from weeds. As a result the paddy clumps will produce more seeds, double what it used to be.

This legowo method was introduced through Mercy Corps' Farming School in Aceh Besar area that started in 2008. In conducting this school, Mercy Corps also collaborated with the Aceh Government Extension Agency. Besides learning agricultural theories in the classroom, this school also provides demonstration plots in order to show farmers how to use legowo method and how much yield they can get by it.

At first, it’s not that easy to convince farmers about this idea, since it means that there will be fewer plants in their field — far less than before. This new idea is hard to be accepted in local understanding. For years they have been planting with the tegel method, a traditional method that has been used by their ancestors and that current farmers have inherited as the way to plant paddy. In that method, they really make use of every centimeter of field since, in their way of thinking, the more paddy clumps in the field, the more yield will they get.

Another local challenge the farmers here face is the salinity of soil and water, as well as debris in farmers’ paddy fields because of the Indian Ocean Tsunami that struck this area in 2004. Unfortunately, not all of Aceh Besar was helped by organizations like Mercy Corps in debris clearing and soil salinity normalization. As a result, those paddy fields turn to swamp areas and were abandon by the owners. Farmers in those areas are discouraged to plant because of this condition. Rice production in Aceh Besar has kept on decreasing, because of the old method of planting and bad condition of paddy fields caused by tsunami debris and salinity.

Mercy Corps' agriculture and markets team was not about give up easily on those challenges. They worked hard to convince farmers through demonstration plot in several areas. They worked together with government extension agents to keep running the farming school and keep on informing farmers about how to handle the salinity problem — as well as encourage farmers to independently clear their paddy fields from tsunami debris.

After working hard to convince the farmers in Aceh Besar sub-district to clean the paddy field and start to plant again with the legowo method, more farmers have start to plant using this new method. One of the villages that now is using Legowo method is Rima Jeunue village. After the first farming school was finished, there were only few farmers who believes in the method. Those farmers implemented the legowo planting method in their paddy field right away and, in harvest time, they gained more harvest than ever before!

The harvest yield they got really surprised them, convinced them more and encouraged them to keep on using the legowo method. Other farmers in this village who knew that their friends got more yield in harvest time started to believe that the new method was really working. So, soon in the next planting season, more farmers in Rima Jeunue implemented the method and were successful. They got more yields than when they used the tegel method.

Other farmers who had hesitated were convinced by their friends' successful second harvests. They were so motivated by it and then determined to use it. Many farmers took initiative to expand their paddy fields by clearing the abandoned fields that had turned to swamp. They cleaned it from tsunami debris and restored the soil condition to normal, free from salinity.

Their paddy fields are non-irrigated field that get water from the rain, so they plant in rainy season only. But, because they are so motivated in using the legowo method, they tried planting in the dry season — which they had never done before. They even used water from nearby swamps to irrigate their paddy fields!

Today, 70 percent of farmers in the area are planting rice paddy again.

It's now the third planting season after the farming school. By this March and April, farmers in Rima Jeunue village are starting to harvest their paddy field. The extension agents we work with have informed me that farmers’ yield are again increasing, just like they predicted.

Today, most of the farmers in Rima Jeunue village and other villages of Aceh Besar have been sincere — sincere in giving more space to their paddy clumps so they get more now.