Farmers Helping Farmers

Sharing best practices about growing coffee and other crops takes a village

While Atma Connect originally launched as a mobile app for people to share information and build resilience in disaster-prone areas, the impact is far greater now. Atma and its Indonesian counterpart, Sakawarga, are enabling many more people to collaborate, including coffee farmers coping with climate change.

Farmers face many challenges, from weather to crop prices to emboldened rodents.

In the South Sumatra region in Indonesia, a new website is enabling farmers to share hard-won information with one another on how to grow crops more sustainably and build sustainable livelihoods for their families.

To ensure a successful launch, the team met with literacy ambassadors from 20 villages to talk about Citizen Journalism and sharing sustainable farming practices

The site: meaning Indonesian Farmers.
The slogan: Growth and Traditions.

Penatani was launched by the Jakarta-based Penabulu Foundation and Ford Foundation to encourage sustainability. Sakawarga Foundation, Atma’s tech team in Indonesia, built the site in two months, after extensive human-centered design based on user testing and world-renowned methods that Atma integrated through its partnership with IDEO.

The result: a robust platform for farmers to ask questions and get answers, have a marketplace for selling produce and farm tools and, not least, share valuable information with one another on a wide scale.

The driving force is not only citizen journalism, in which local people share news and insights with one another; Penatani is also focused on cultivating sustainable natural resource management, according to Meiardhy Mujianto, the Penabulu Foundation’s model area partnership development coordinator.

So far, the most popular section on Penatani is the information sharing section. Here’s just one of the tips that newer farmers can learn from experienced farmers from South Sumatra on the southeast of the island of Sumatra where coffee beans, rice and other crops are grown. A blog post, with more than 300 views so far, notes:

“Farming has been the main livelihood of the Besemah community since long ago; there are many customs and traditions that have become a legacy until now. One of them is the tradition of pinching mangosteen leaves to repel rodents in the fields.”

That type of specific and useful information exchange is a strategic part of Atma and Sakawarga’s work. “We believe in enabling climate action, building community, and growing household income. This type of people-to-people communication platform builds the capacity of communities on the frontlines of fighting climate change,” says Aisyah Gunung, Sakawarga technical lead and Atma Connect’s head of product.

The main goals for the site that the team built were to enable farmers to:

  • Conserve natural resources,
  • Manage forestry resources, and
  • Share effective practices to build sustainable livelihoods.

“I’m proud that this platform can provide solutions that leverage the existing nature and potential in a rural area of Sumatra, a region whose contribution is massive to our national coffee production,” says Alfan Kasdar, Sakawarga Co-Director and Atma Connect’s Indonesia field director. “It was great to see how the farmers and citizens were very excited to see the platform and instantly understood how it could help them to communicate with each other, share knowledge, and promote their produce and region.”

As for those pesky rodents? The popular post, written by a farmer nicknamed Cantika, explains the tradition of pinching mangosteen leaves before fruiting and how to do it with bamboo sticks. Like many users on Penatani, Cantika is concerned about growing local produce while preserving the environment for further sustainability. Her post noted:

“All farmers in Sukaraja village follow this tradition to repel rats without poisoning or trapping rats, believe it or not,” said Agustami, one of the farmers in the village of Sukaraja.

Cantika’s article went on to explain the many advantages of the mangosteen custom:

“This method is certainly very good for the preservation of the natural environment and pro-environmental sustainability. Why is that? Because by not poisoning rats, we can maintain the existence of the ricefield food chain population. ….

We learn from history that many animals or plants that we think are easy to find anywhere are now very rare and even extinct. Likewise, we judge rats, which is a part of the food chain that snakes eat. If the rat is not there, the snake will lack food and prey on livestock. In addition, by not poisoning rats, we will keep the river flow clean from chemicals.”

To ensure a successful site launch, the Sakawarga team worked closely with Penabalu and villagers in advance. There was more than a month of in-depth writing and citizen journalism training so that farmers would know how to best use the platform.

A crucial step was identifying literacy ambassadors for each village in a “train the trainers” mode, to be able to encourage others to use the website effectively to share insights and ideas. One of the ambassadors is a farmer named Silvia. She herself is gleaning useful information through Penatani. As she says, “Besides being able to share stories about the potential of the village, on the platform I also recently learned that friends in the Mulak Ulu area have started planting coffee companion plants, such as pepper plants.”

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