Sowing Seeds of Peace

A lady smiled. She was chewing betel which made her lips reddish. On a brink rock, she was sitting. She was staring down the cliff. A beautiful landscape of a reservoir or lake, surrounded by hills which covered by brownish soil.

The lake is located in the middle of barren hills in Napan Village, North Central Timor Regency, East Nusa Tenggara Province (NTT). Green scenery surrounded the lake. There are various types of green vegetables on the lake to the top of the hill: mustard greens, kale, cabbage, to beans.

"This lake is only dry in October. Therefore, we can always plant, " she said. "Unfortunately, we don't have a pump yet, so we take water in the lake to bring it up so we can flush vegetables," she continued.

On the edge of the lake, men were seen busy making beds to be planted. Meanwhile women were watering plants, ferting from organic materials, and cleaning crabgrasses.  There were also seen children playing between the plants.

In this village, everyone has a clear job description. Women do not stay at home and wait for their husbands. Moreover, the women became figures who are actively working. They go with their husbands to the farm, carrying their children.

"Here, every mama-mama comes to work in the garden. In fact, mama-mama also sell all these vegetables to the market, "said that lady. Mama means mother.

This mama statement was confirmed by a farmer, Jose Benu. Almost everyday, he will come to this farm with his wife. They work together and collaborating.

"If there are no women, what can I do?" he laughed. His teeth was seen reddish. Jose Benu was around 50 years old. He is one of the householder who took the initiative to farm around this lake. He also told me that most of the families who working around the lake were former Timor Leste refugees who had chosen to become Indonesian citizens.

"We all came to this village after the referendum. We have been becoming refugees for a long time. We feel safer here, so we choosed to remain in Indonesia," he continued.

Firstly, he worked odd jobs. He was not interested in becoming a smuggler of goods to Timor Leste. Up to now, border areas are prone to smuggling. The inequality in prices of goods in Indonesia and Timor Leste caused by smuggling. For instance, gasoline in Timor Leste costs USD 3 per litre. Meanwhile in Indonesia, the prices was only about 10.000 rupiah or USD 1 per litre.

The goods are smuggled across the border. In fact that the items were smuggled through the jalan tikus (secret passage) which they did not pass the guard post. Even though security is tightened, it always can getaway.

Jose Benu was interested in becoming a farmer. One day, he saw an empty land. He encouraged to meet the land owner, Edmundo Lase. He was allowed to manage the vacant lot.

He invited his colleagues who in the farmer group named Tafe'u to manage it. He explained the meaning of Tafe'u in Dawan, the language used by all Napan people and every villagers in Timor Leste region.

Tafe'u means always upgrading. Which one is upgraded? "Everything can be renewed. Including members of the farmer group," he said.

It have philosophical meaning. The philosopher, Heraclitus who cited penta rei, which means everything in life is always changing. Everything is always dynamic. What is the eternal is the changing itself.

In Jose Benu mind, farming is an activity that makes him forget all the trauma. When he saw the buds of plant growing, he could forget all the tragedies that he had experienced. His physique is becoming stronger, his mind turning fresher.

"Since I practice farming, I have forgotten all the problems and grief. I am happy indeed when I see the new buds appearing, and also green plants which give me freshness, " he said.

Jose Benu

Jose was lucky, in President Joko Widodo era, the Indonesian government built a reservoir on the areas. The government built a small lake in the middle of the barren hill. The lake was the beginning of the collaboration of many stakeholders. Village Government expands the lake. An international agency, UNDP, is conducting horticulture cultivation training for local residents. Even UNDP is preparing organic vegetable seeds for residents.

Jose began to see a glimmer of hope. He applied it on the hill. Firstly, he collected cow and goat dung. Then, the dung is spreaded on the beds, where he made it around the reservoir. After that, he watered it. Later, it is ready to be planted.

He also invited his colleague to make terrace beds, then planted them. Whoever makes raised beds and planting, has the right to harvest. Collaborating with his colleagues at Tafe'u, they grow kale, mustard greens, shallots, and cabbage. Everything is organic.

At first, Jose and his colleagues at Tafe'u were subsistence farmers (self-sufficiency) who only pursued their own needs. All crops harvested are only used for household needs. If there is any leftover, then it is sold to the market. "We are happy because after the harvest, we can meet the necessity of the family. It can also be sold, but not much," he said.

But after attending a training organized by UNDP in collaboration with the Mitra Tani Mandiri Foundation (MTM) and the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Kemenlu), farmers began to increase production yields, then sell them to the market. They began to make it a livehood to support the family.

Seeds of Truce

Jose and mama-mama who work around the lake told me that they were gardening just to fill free time. Although, since attending the training organized by UNDP and the Mitra Tani Mandiri Foundation (MTM), they have begun to see it as a productive economy.

The training is important because up to date the border residents have applied shifting cultivation. They did deforestation, burning, planting, then moving.  In the rainy season, they rarely farm because it is difficult to burn land.

As the result of the training, they can learn many things about horticulture, from planting, caring, to harvesting plants. "Because the support of UNDP and the MTM Foundation, we were able to expand our farms. We were also assisted by a facilitator who gave us input from planting to harvesting," said a mama there.

The training was held in December 2018 which aims to introduce Good Agriculture Practices (GAP). This training was given to 25 farmers in Napan, and 25 farmers in Oesilo. Farmers are taught to grow the vegetables and horticulture in the rainy season, namely tomatoes, eggplants, beans, string beans, kale, and mustard greens.

The training materials was provided included selection of vegetable seeds and varieties, preparation for vegetable seeding, land preparation, vegetable planting, vegetable maintenance, and pest and disease control.

This training is part of a collaborative project between Indonesia and Norway to build the local economy of communities on the border. In hope, that will improve and live cross-border economic activities, and increase the capacity of farmers.

This training on vegetable and horticulture techniques is the beginning of the project cooperation between Indonesia and Norway in the "Partnership Initiative for Institutional Development of Indonesia's South-South and Triangular Cooperation" (PIID-ISSTC), which one of the outputs is peace building through local economic development across the borders of Indonesia and Timor Leste.

The interesting fact about this training is the opportunity for the farmers at the border to learn from each other. Farmers in Indonesia visit Timor Leste, and vice versa. They learn in an equal and joyful atmosphere. They also share experiences.

MTM Foundation Director Josef Maan called the participatory monitoring approaching, namely a cross-visit between farmers regions to monitor each other's program progress. Participatory monitoring becomes a learning ground for farmers, a medium for them to motivate and control each other, fostering healthy competition between farmers with the result that they can advance their joint efforts.

He sees community participation as a very important benchmark in community empowerment. The concept of participation is often integrated in the problem identification and analysis cycle, program planning and implementation.

"If monitoring is carried out in a participatory manner, it will provide many benefits for farmers as actors and beneficiaries as well as for the institutions and implementing agencies of the program. Through this approach, we position farmers as actors and beneficiaries of the program, " he said.

Josef Maan hopes that through visiting each other, farmers in Napan and Oesilo can build interactive processes so that they get to know each other, build networks, share experiences, and learn how to apply correctly Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) and Good Handling Practices (GHP).

This participatory monitoring was effectively carried out for two days in two program areas. Initially several farmers' groups in Napan visited Oesilo. After that, the farmers in Oesilo came to visit Napan.

"We believe that all farmers have experience. Therefore, we hope that they can share their experiences so they can learn from each other," said Josef Maan.

Harvest the Elbow Grease

Agricultural activities in Napan and Oesilo have become fun activities for farmers. One of mama tells, farming is a joyful activity. She will be missing something if she does not come to the garden to check the condition of the plants. "If I saw the plants begin to bear fruit, I would be very happy," she said.

Jose Benu felt his mind become fresher when he saw greenery. "The support of UNDP and the MTM Foundation resulting we can expand the farm. We are delighted, because  growing vegetables can make the body can be fresh, the brain is also fresh. Seeing greenery, can be also made us fresh, " he said cheerfully.

Nowdays, vegetables are starting to be marketed. In fact, the vegetables did not have time to reach markets in Timor Leste, or the people's markets in Kefa, the capital of North Central Timor, because they were immediately bought.  "When harvest coming, I never had problem to sell these vegetables. Before reaching the market, it always sells first. In fact that many people come looking for vegetables here," he said.

Napan Village Head, Yohanis Anunu said agricultural commodities is a mainstay and contributed to increasing the family's economic income in his village. The commodities are corn, rice, peanuts, coconut, banana, cassava, teak, and mahogany. Unfortunately, per capita income is low which about at 500.000 rupiah per month for one householder.

Yohanis Anunu, Napan Village Head

Some villagers like Jose Benu do not want to grow vegetables only. In the lake, he raised fish. He also uses crabgrasses that grow around the lake as fodder. "Cows like to eat crabgrasses which grow in this lake," he said.

His imagination is not only seeing green vegetables, but also fish ponds and the farm there. If agriculture and livestock develops, he can start thinking about ecotourism. His vision that there will be a hut that served local coffee. He imagined that he will witness the magnificent green landscape in the middle of a barren hill.

"Whatever will be happens, I will keep farming. Not only for family necessity, but also I will find peace," he said.

For Jose and many other families, farming is a way out of all the trauma of conflict, as well as a bright way to get a better future.

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