Now it’s time to trade

Indonesia, February 23, 2010

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Piva Bell/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Zahlia stands in front of her produce stand at the Lampakuk village market, with green bundles of lemongrass piled up on the table. Photo: Piva Bell/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Piva Bell/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A man sells a variety of fruits from his stand at the Lampakuk village market. Photo: Piva Bell/Mercy Corps
  <span class="field-credit">
    Piva Bell/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A woman sells local rice from her paddy at the Lampakuk village market. Photo: Piva Bell/Mercy Corps

"Going to shop for your everyday needs — rice, vegetables, fruit, fish, meat, spices, various food...please visit PASAI TANI!"

That short sentence immediately caught my eye when the Pasai Tani — which means "Farmer's Market" in our language — was displayed in a brochure with that was handed to me.

"Lampakuk market, Kuta Cot Glie, every Tuesday 08:00-16:00."

Going to the market was my goal this morning, as part of the monitoring and evaluation part of my job. The journey, which took me approximately 45 minutes out of the city of Banda Aceh, was quite pleasant with stunning wide green paddy fields on both sides of the road. I chatted with my colleagues along the way.

At 10:17 a.m. we arrived there. Between 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. it was crowded with traders and buyers. This weekly market has been here for decades, and every village in this area gets their turn as a market hub once a week. These village markets are quite unique, because the urban markets I know are usually held every day and mostly visited by shoppers in the morning time.

Here in Lampakuk village, many of the market traders set up dark green tents and lined up at the front of the market. Some of them were local farmers who were selling their produce directly to the public for the first time, thanks to ASPARTAN — a Farmers' Market Association formed by Mercy Corps). These farmers were selling garden-fresh vegetables and fruit such as durian, eggplant, lemon grass and organic rice.

They looked enthusiastic with just a bit of tension reflected in their faces. It is not surprising, because trading is a very new thing for most of them. Before, these farmers didn’t have access to sell their harvests directly to the market, which is located far away from their fields. As a result, they always sold their yield to middle men who demanded they sell at lower prices than the going market rate. When their crops weren't in demand, the middle men came and offered low prices because they said there weren't many customers. But even when the farmers' crops were in high demand, the middle men will come and offer the same low prices because they said that there were many other farmers selling the same thing.

Since there were no other options, the farmers always had to settle for selling their harvests to the middle men for low prices, which gave them no significant progress in improving their farms, households or village economies. And so, after generations of this method of trading, most of them still lived in poverty even if their harvests were successful. They were unable to provide an appropriate education for their children because they had no money to do so. They struggled to meet the everyday needs of their families with such small income.

Seeing this worsening trend, Mercy Corps helped create ASPARTAN to help local farmers cut out the middle man and sell their produce at appropriate prices in the market.

Zahlia, a local farmer and housewife, shared her delight with me. She told me that, in the Lampakuk market, she sells the harvest from her backyard. Besides vegetables, she sells bundles of lemongrass — each bundle contains eight stalks of lemongrass and costs US $0.11. Previously, she always sold 11 bundles of lemongrass to the middle man for only about US $0.22. Thinking about this, we can imagine how much profit these farmers had lost over the years. No wonder Zahlia is smiling and eager to sell, although so far she's only sold three bundles of lemongrass.

When I asked about her future plans here, she told me that her husband works as daily laborer in paddy field, for about US $4 per day. However, he only works during planting and harvesting time — after and between these periods, her family has had no regular income. For years, they've depended on the small amount of money they've received from middle men to meet their daily needs — and Zahlia has three children whose school needs to be financed. What a heavy burden she has.

Therefore, she felt that the trading opportunities she gets in this village are very promising for meeting her family's household needs, especially when her husband is out of work. By selling her produce every Tuesday, there will be income to fulfill her family’s needs every week.

Zahlia is not alone in these hopes — many other farmers I talked with had stories that are not much different. They are very excited and motivated to trade here, and optimistic about their future.

Although, with the close of post-tsunami programs in Banda Aceh, Mercy Corps' other work in Lampakuk village came to an end, it does not mean that the economic growth of local farmers would stop. They work hard here. And the local economies will continue to grow with the support of local government agencies and offices.

At 11:35 a.m. the market became even more crowded. I still wanted to keep talking with all these farmers about their experiences, but I had to get back to the office to continue my other duties.

See you again next week, Lampakuk market!