Retooling Mentawai and helping it grow again


July 27, 2011

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    Iswanto JA/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Marudin, a local farmer who received tools and seeds from Mercy Corps, thinks the results from the corn harvest are encouraging. Photo: Iswanto JA/Mercy Corps

Indonesia's Mentawai Islands have a very hot and arid climate but, because of high rainfall and minimal pests, it is great for agriculture. When the tsunami hit last October, Mentawai residents ran from the waves with only the clothes on their backs. Most tools and crops were lost.

Through separate but collaborative programs, Mercy Corps has distributed 559 Farmer Toolkits through funding from USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA). We've also given farmers 565 packs of corn, chilli, eggplant, watermelon, cucumber and green bean seeds — as well as 150,000 cacao seedlings — through the generosity of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

As you enter Kinumbuk, Bulasat village on Pagai Selatan (South Pagai Island), the air becomes cool. Each temporary shelter belonging to a tsunami-displaced family is nearly covered with a leafy and shady corn crop. Not far from the house there are also cacao, pepper, eggplant and cucumber seedlings that are beginning to grow.

One resident, 33-year-old Marudin — who is a farmer from North Sumatra and moved to Mentawai in 2001 — thinks the results from the corn harvest are encouraging. In his view, the amount is enough to both provide food for the family and lower weekly food costs.

“Let's evaluate," he said. "Every week we usually buy vegetables and chilli, but now the chilli and eggplants from the Gates Foundation and Mercy Corps can be harvested, which means that we no longer have to spend money on transportation or the cost for these vegetables.”

In addition, farmer toolkits provided by OFDA and Mercy Corps have assisted these crop yields. Mercy Corps’ livelihoods team collaborated with local families to create a “Tool Shopping List” that would allow farming families to select the tools they need. Every farmer chose tools up to the amount of 285,000 Indonesian rupiah (US$32) from the list. Each tool was chosen because of its use for cultivating different crops, or because it was more appropriate for female farmers (smaller and lighter in weight).

For now, most farmers are using their axes and machetes to prepare new land for farming. Some of the tools our team distributed include: hoes, three types of machetes, two types of axes, two types of sickles, two types of grass cutters, stone sharpeners for tool maintenance, scissors for patchouli and a copra knife.

Local farmers are excited to have the right tools for their crops. As Marudin said, "If we want to be a fisherman, we must have a boat, fishing lines and nets. If we do not have the right equipment, we cannot catch fish. Like fishing, gardening requires the right tools. Farmer Rehabilitation Toolkits from OFDA are very supportive and motivating citizens to go to the farm."