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Tapping local wisdom for climate adaptation

January 26, 2023
topic:Climate action
tags:#Indonesia, #wildfires, #drought, #Sustainable Agriculture, #indigenous knowledge
by:Leo Galuh
Farmers and NGOs in Indonesia embrace local wisdom to develop climate adaptation measures as the country is set to experience one of its driest years on record, which increases the risk of forest fires.

Due to the weakening of the La Nina pattern, Indonesia is estimated to see less rainfall. The country’s weather agency warned that farmers will face droughts and that crops will be jeopardised. 

The archipelago country, spanning a total area of 7.81 square kilometres with over 17,000 islands, is traversed by monsoon winds. Such winds are said to move alternately twice throughout this year.

Indonesia's Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency (BMKG) had warned back in October that the country will experience its driest weather since 2019 next year.

Water resource management for agriculture

The BMKG said the impact of climate change can also be seen in the increased frequency of extreme rainfall, which causes floods and other disasters. The agency stated that climate change would not only cause excessive rain, but could also severe droughts, as reported by the state media Antara.

Jaka Widada, the Dean of Agriculture at Gadjah Mada University and an agriculture and food expert, said that Indonesian farmers, who previously grappled with pests and diseases, are now facing a new challenge: extreme weather.

"Our farmers create a Belik for their rice field in the mountainous area," Widada told FairPlanet. "It is our local wisdom to store water and will be used during the drought." He said that the local wisdom of Belik is an attempt by farmers to adapt to weather changes.

Belik is a small spring commonly used as a seepage spring. This term is derived from the Javanese word Belik, which means water source. Beliks are typically found on river cliffs or in small valley curves, both in the middle of fields and in boulder crevices. They are typically about 1.5 metres deep, but have no specific measurements.

Widada added that Indonesia has a significant advantage due to its geographical location, and that its residents can grow crops all year in a tropical climate. But the problem, he pointed out, is that the water sources are uneven.

"Water will be abundant during the rainy season, but scarce during the dry season," he noted.

When Indonesia was still under the Soeharto regime from 1967 to 1998, the government built many Beliks to support the nearby hydropower plants, Widada said, and that in the last two to three years the government built more Beliks as a water storage method.

"The government should think wisely about water management and distribution of Beliks," Widada said, adding that the government built Beliks in the lower ground and neglected the challenge of distributing them to higher grounds.

"It should be built in higher ground to facilitate distribution to the farmers," Widada noted.

Sustainable farming

Widada said that climate change has impacted the country’s food sector, and that there is a need to opt for upland rice that is adaptive to the climate and can be nurtured with less water. An indigenous Sundanese ethnic group of Baduy living in the western hemisphere of Java Island is growing upland rice without any rice fields.

In Indonesia, monoculture cropping has the potential to cause pest explosions, ecosystem changes, environmental damage and food chain disruption. Experts also believe that monoculture cropping systems' widespread use will result in low soil nutrient content and soil infertility, which would mean that soil biodiversity will vanish due to erosion and quality will deteriorate due to contamination.

This has become more urgent as Indonesia’s rice production in 2022 for consumption was expected to reach around 32.07 million tons, up 718.03 thousand tons or 2.29 percent from rice production in 2021, which was 31.36 million tons, according to the National Statistics Agency release.

The paddy harvested area in 2022 was estimated to be 10.61 million hectares, an increase of 194.71 thousand hectares or 1.87 percent compared to the paddy harvested area in 2021, which was 10.41 million hectares, the release further stated.

In terms of food security, the construction of dams and irrigation canals allows farmers to continue receiving adequate water supply during the dry season, and ensures that people's consumption needs are met; harvests can even be increased up to three times a year, according to Indonesia’s Ministry of Public Works and Housing.

To meet the demands of a growing global population, food production must double by 2050, while land and water resources are limited, the release added.

In the future, Indonesia should adopt sustainable farming that must not harm the natural ecosystem, Widada said, adding that a farming method that can preserve natural diversities of agriculture, maintain the forest product and water resources, and eliminate pests and diseases with nature-based solutions is encouraged, instead of using chemical fertilizers. He mentioned that a small spring has contributed to robust sustainable farming.

"Sustainable farming use the small spring as water storage," he told FairPlanet.

Furthermore, he said that monoculture farming, which grows only rice or corn, is vulnerable to climate change. Local wisdom in Indonesia has its own way of growing agricultural commodities using the Tumpang Sari or the intercropping method. He suggested that farmers switch back to this method.

Tumpang Sari is a type of mixed cropping or polyculture in which two or more types of plants are grown in the same planting area at the same time. This polyculture system can reduce pest attacks because planting crops next to each other reduces the population of other plant pests, the expert said.

He added that crop rotation will improve the polyculture system because it will break the life cycle of pests and diseases and reduce the need for chemical pesticides, and that intercropping with leguminosae or nut crops can boost soil fertility.

"With cassava and peanuts the harvest varies almost every week; the ecosystem is more sustainable than monoculture," Widada explained. 

Forest Fire Prevention

Meanwhile, the dry season in 2023 could be similar to the one in 2019, when more than 1.65 million hectares of forest burned, according to BMKG.

The World Bank estimated in its 2019 Indonesia Economic Quarterly Reports that the total damage and economic loss from forest fires in the country that year amounted to at least USD 5.2 billion, or 0.5 percent of the its GDP.

Furthermore, land and forest fires in Indonesia in 2019 have emitted at least 708 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, nearly double the emissions from the Brazilian Amazon in that year, according to Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS).

CAMS discovered that the Indonesian fires in 2019 were one of the most intense in nearly two decades and released far more than the 366 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emitted by the more-publicised fires in the Brazilian Amazon, an independent media reported by Mongabay reported.

According to Greenpeace forest campaigner Iqbal Damanik, last year Greenpeace trained people to use fire extinguishers to combat minor forest fires in Borneo's West Kalimantan province.

"Masyarakat Peduli Api [Fire Care Society] is a collaboration between Greenpeace and locals," Damanik told FairPlanet. This team put out minor forest fires before they spread, he added.

The Greenpeace Fire Prevention Fires deploys around 30 volunteers in three provinces that are highly prone to forest fires, including Riau, West Kalimantan and Central Kalimantan.

"The forest fires in Riau and West Kalimantan usually occur twice a year around January to March," he said, while other provinces in Indonesia like South Kalimantan, Central Kalimantan or South Sumatera face forest fires from September to October. 

He further highlighted that Greenpeace’s Fire Prevention team doesn’t only put out fires, but also focuses on the prevention efforts, which are strengthened by collaborations between local residents and governments.

"We built a dam in the peat area so that the peat remains wet. We also built a small pond nearby the local plantation," Damanik said, adding that Greenpeace volunteers assisted local farmers to establish a new plantation area without burning the plants.

Despite the fact that cleaning up some areas for agriculture will take up more time, volunteers and farmers cut the grass and shrubs together, he concluded. 

Image by Inés Álvarez Fdez.

Article written by:
Leo Galuh
Embed from Getty Images
Indonesia’s weather agency has warned that farmers will face droughts and that crops will be harmed.
Embed from Getty Images
“Our farmers create a Belik for their rice field in the mountainous area. It is our local wisdom to store water and will be used during the drought.”
Embed from Getty Images
Last year, Greenpeace trained people to use fire extinguishers to combat minor forest fires in Borneo's West Kalimantan province.
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