Challenges and solutions
Over the four years, the community faced a number of challenges. Water scarcity led to almost half of the tree seedlings dying, and others were lost to fire and cattle grazing.
The project looked for ways to resolve this; community leaders introduced regulations to prohibit cattle grazing and field burning within the planting sites, with strict penalties. Community education sessions were held about why field burning is harmful and community members joined together to build fences to protect their trees from cattle. To combat the water scarcity, the project taught farmers about 'in batron' irrigation, which uses upturned water bottles in the ground to provide regular water supply to plants. It requires few resources from the farmers, and is more suited to the dry landscape.
Towards the end of the project in 2015, wilt disease caused by bacterial infection killed a number of teak trees. The farmers and project facilitators had limited knowledge about disease management, so they enlisted the help of East Sumba’s Department of Agriculture to provide education sessions which 480 people participated in.
Seeing the difference
Despite these problems, the project saw a lot of success in just four years. For farmer Keba, it helped him return to growing rice for his family.
"It had been three years since we could plant rice, because there was not enough water to irrigate the field," he says. He and a group of other farmers started planting trees and practicing FMNR on a stretch of community farm land. After three years the space was transformed into a green and shady area. The trees helped replenish groundwater and organic matter from fallen leaves increased soil fertility. As a result, the community was able to transform one hectare of their restored land into a rice field to feed their families.
An important aspect of the project was that men and women could participate and be treated equally. Women were involved in every activity, working hand in hand with men to plant and maintain trees, contribute to discussions and make decisions.
Mother of six Naomi says the most noticeable change from the project is that “the spring has more water, as it is near the community plot and there are more trees. The spring never runs dry now. Even though you cart water truck loads away, there is still more water."
For Febrianti, the 60 trees she and her husband have planted are a sign of hope for their son’s future. As well as increasing tree coverage in the community, mahogany and teak trees provide a savings bank for the future when the quality timber can be sold or used to build houses. Febrianti's son Bonifasius is just a few months old, but she hopes that one day "he can get a better education and go to University."
Schools benefited from the increased shade and cooler environment that the trees created, and students became interested in caring for the environment, planting trees and watching them grow. Soil fertility improved in many tree and FMNR demonstration plots, leading to less damage from erosion, fewer landslides and a better farming environment. Children will continue to be active participants of the project into the future through awareness raising activities in schools and children’s groups.