Extension Knowledge

Posted September 1996

Group-based Extension Programmes for Natural Resource Conservation in Java

by A.S. Martaamidjaja
and M. Rikhana,
Subject Matter Specialist
Ministry of Agriculture, Indonesia
from "Training for Agricultural and Rural Development, 1995-96" (FAO, 1996)

WITH AN ESTIMATED POPULATION of 190 million, Indonesia ranks fourth among the world's most populous countries. Its total land area is about 1.93 million square kilometres spread over 13,000 islands, constituting the largest archipelago in the world. Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Irian Jaya are the five main islands on which the majority of the population lives. More than 110 million people (approximately 60 percent of the total population) reside with a density of 850 persons per square kilometre. Agriculture is the most important economic sector and is characterized by family-based, small farm holdings. The average farm size in Java is about 0.20 ha, while on other islands it is approximately 0.80 ha.

During the last 25 years, agricultural development has been designed primarily to increase production, particularly that of rice and other food crops. Its other objectives have been to increase farmers' income, diversify agricultural production, improve nutrition, increase export of agricultural products, generate employment opportunities in rural areas and conserve natural resources.

Progress in agricultural programmes has changed Indonesia's status from rice importer to self-sufficient rice producer. This achievement has, in general, accelerated economic development, particularly in rural areas, resulting in a decrease in the rural population living below the poverty line from 21 percent in 1984 to 14 percent in 1990.

The rapid growth of national economic development in various sectors has put tremendous pressure on natural resources, however, resulting in a gradual degradation of the land in particular and the environment in general. Industrial development has frequently sacrificed agricultural land to the construction of factories, roads, housing and other land-based infrastructure. The World Bank reported that in 1989 about 900,000 ha of forest area in Indonesia had been converted to developmental purposes, 23 percent of which was degraded. This has led to increasing land erosion, particularly in surrounding lowland areas.

The shifting use of agricultural land reduces the cultivated area and threatens the capacity for agricultural production, of rice in particular. This situation is more apparent in Java than on the other islands. To resolve this conflict of interest on land use, the Government of Indonesia has initiated several efforts including the shifting of agricultural areas to islands other than Java and the introduction of intensification programmes, non-land-baed farming and environment-oriented farming systems.

Agricultural extension system

As a system of education, agricultural extension in Indonesia is concerned not only with transferring technology, but with educating farmers to become development-oriented. The main task of agricultural extension is to facilitate farmers' learning and action through the provision of technical information, access to development facilities and legal support for farming and business activities. Its basic goal is to assist farmers to help themselves in solving their problems. Agricultural extension in Indonesia is conceived as: a means of promoting human development; a bridge between research findings and their application in the farming community; a mechanism for diffusion of agricultural innovations; a cooperative effort between the central and local governments; and a partnership between the government and the farming community ­p; more specifically, between agricultural extension workers and farmers.

As a result of the large number of farm families in Indonesia (about 27 million) and the limited number of extension workers, it is impossible to approach farmers on an individual basis. A group approach is therefore used as the basic extension strategy. A group approach is effective because of the limited resources of individual farmers and also because the Indonesian community is very group-oriented in many aspects. Community actions are very much determined by group decisions. Extension agents help farmer groups to develop group actions, set objectives, plan programmes and provide information for decision-making.

The operational authority of agricultural extension in Indonesia rests with the district administration. The mayor of the district coordinates and controls the agricultural extension programmes, which are carried out by four different agricultural services (food crops, livestock, estate crops and fisheries). Field activities of the programme are administered through the rural extension centres in the villages.

The role of the contact farmer (chairperson of a farmer group) is very important, because he/she acts as the communication link between the extension workers and the group members as well as the other farmers in the community. The contact farmer is viewed as a partner of the extension worker and is informally considered to be a voluntary change agent. As a community leader, he/she plays an important role in mobilizing the group members to implement extension activities.

Approximately 35 000 field extension workers are currently employed in Indonesia to serve the farmers, and these are supported by about 3,000 subject matter specialists. The ratio of field extension workers to farm families is approximately 1:800 for Java and 1:1,200 for other islands.

Gotong royong

Gotong royong is Indonesia's traditional spirit of mutual help among members of a community. The underlying philosophy is that people cannot live a solitary existence; they need each other, particularly family members and relatives. The practice of gotong royong originates from the traditional peasant subculture, which is characterized by subsistence farming, family-oriented grouping and strong social interdependency.

The spirit of gotong royong is a reflection of mutual group interest, solidarity and responsibility. It is applied in most social and economic community activities such as road and house construction, water management and social ceremonies. Farmer groups and other community associations are also established based on this social institution. The spirit of gotong royong provides the group cohesiveness necessary for cooperative work and prevents conflict among the group members.

Gotong royong activities are carried out by the community mainly in two ways: group mutual help on common property, such as constructing irrigation canals and rural roads, and group actions to help individuals, such as building private houses. gotong royong is also practised in all aspects of farming, including land preparation, pest management, water management, weeding and harvesting. Natural resource conservation in Java Java's natural assets ­p; mountains, forests, fertile soil and abundant rivers ­p; coupled with a relatively good infrastructure, have positioned Java as the country's major food production centre. As a consequence of intense development activities and population pressure, the industrial and housing sectors' need for land is rapidly increasing. More and more, agricultural and forest areas are being encroached upon to meet this need. In 1991, the remaining forest area in Java comprised only 4.6 percent of the total land. With the ideal figure being 30 percent, this has serious implications for soil erosion and water shortage.

Natural resources are essential production factors and sources of well-being for present and future generations. The level of agricultural production within a particular period depends very much on the national policy for natural resource conservation in existence at that time. Political efforts for the conservation of natural resources and the protection of the environment are therefore imperative.

Upland or rain-fed farming in Java mostly occurs in steeply sloping areas where soil erosion is a serious threat. The depletion of upland areas is mainly caused by a combination of the ecological effects of the climate and harmful farming practices such as planting on sloping areas without constructing terraces or planting on the contour. In addition, because of the insufficient water supply, farmers tend to grow drought-resistant crops, which only increase the chance of land deterioration.

Environmental problems caused by industrial waste and pesticide residues occur in river basins. Improperly processed industrial waste has caused water pollution, which has lead to the destruction of water organisms and the deterioration of people's health. Household waste produced by people living along the river and the use of dynamite for fishing have worsened the situation.

In addition to these problems, agricultural intensification programmes have encouraged farmers to use chemicals on their crops without making them aware of the potential hazards to the environment and their health. Excessive pesticide use kills beneficial living organisms and natural pest enemies. In order to avoid further misuse of pesticides, the goernment has tightened its policy on the use of chemical pesticides through a presidential decree that prohibits the use of 52 pesticides in rice farming and introduces integrated pest management practices.

Natural resource conservation programmes in Java are directed towards the conservation of soil and water resources in upper and lower watershed areas supported by integrated pest management practices. This is achieved through the improvement of land and water management, development of human resources and community participation.

In lowland watershed projects, farmer groups are organized on the basis of irrigation blocks. The groups, referred to as water users' associations, consist of 20 to 30 farmers each. A water users' association is organized by and for the farmers to regulate equitable distribution of irrigation water and to secure proper maintenance of the irrigation system. Activities are planned during group meetings with the help of field extension workers and other related officials.

In the upland watershed projects, farmer groups are organized based on microwatershed areas. Groups consist of ten to 20 farmers, and the area involved encompasses about 10 ha of land. The main group activity is directed at improving terraces and other appropriate conservation techniques, including the construction of minor gully plugs, drop structures and other works to control and direct the flow of excess water.

In addition to soil and water conservation activities, pest management practices play an important role in preventing environmental degradation from chemicals harmful to human health and the natural resource base. This has led to the establishment of the Integrated Pest Management (IPM) Project.

Under the IPM Project, farmer groups are organized on the basis of farm locations. Each group consists of about 25 farmers whose farms are located within the same block and whose main activity is agro-ecosystem analysis of their farms. To perform this task, the group members are divided into subgroups of five members. Each subgroup observes field conditions such as insect densities, predator availability and plant vigour. Based on the subgroup's observations, members discuss problems encountered and seek solutions.

The strategy used in most of the conservation projects is a participatory planning approach involving farmers in the complete process of programme formulation and implementation. Training covering technical expertise, group dynamics and leadership skills is given to both farmers and field extension workers.

One of the methods used to train farmers is the field school, which is organized and administered by extension workers. This method follows the principles of farmers teaching farmers, experiential learning, learning through observation and problem-solving. The learning process takes place in the field during the cultivation season. This method allows the farmers to be actively involved in the learning process, with the facilitators refraining from dominating the process.

The experience of the IPM Project shows that field schools are very appropriate for meeting the learning needs of farmers. The experiential learning approach treats farmers as the focus of the learning process. Learning objectives are not just cognitive, but also action-oriented, in that farmers are actively involved in the whole process of identifying problems, collecting data, observing conditions, discussing solutions and taking action-related decisions.

The natural resource conservation training provided to extension workers includes technical knowledge, socio-economic aspects of conservation, farming systems, communication and motivation skills and community development. The methods used are mainly participatory and are conducted in both the classroom and field laboratory.

Rai-fed farming system development project in East Java

Like other provinces in Java, East Java faces environmental problems caused by rapid growth and poor agricultural practices. The most critical environmental problems are found in the southwestern part of East Java, where most of the farmers improperly cultivate upland and steeply sloping areas. This has resulted in both a high rate of land erosion and low productivity leading to poverty. To overcome these problems, the government established the East Java Rainfed Agricultural Project (EJRAP) in 1991 to rehabilitate the increasingly degraded upland areas.

The main objectives of the project are to increase the income and living standards of farm households, to rehabilitate and protect the natural resource base and the environment affecting agriculture and to introduce improved and sustainable agricultural production systems. Using a demonstration-farm approach operated on farmers' land and organized by the farmers themselves, the project supports farmers' activities with technical assistance and production inputs.

Begun in 1995, this project will be implemented for a total of seven years in 176 villages in six districts. The project covers 20 000 farm households embracing a total land area of 13 000 ha, and each demonstration farm incorporates approximately 10 ha of land belonging to 20 to 35 farmers. The project areas were chosen according to the availability and capacity of support services and farmer groups.

The problems to be addressed by the project are: the low quality and quantity of the physical and social infrastructure; irrigation that is difficult and expensive to develop because of the steepness of slopes and scarce water resources; the high rate of erosion resulting from the steepness of slopes, intense rainfall over short periods, erodibility of the soils and intensive annual crop cultivation over wide areas with inadequate and improper soil management practices; low level of farm output and the need to use much of the production for consumption; and poor extension services, in terms of unqualified staff and a lack of extension materials to address the specific problems of small upland farmers.

To overcome these problems, the project aims to broaden the base of food self-sufficiency, enhance soil conservation, develop sustainable farming systems, improve farmers' incomes and protect the environment. Emphasis is given to food crops other than rice, secondary cash crops and tree crops. The project also aims to promote efficient linkages between research and extension, using the Training and Visit (T&V) approach to provide appropriate technology, and the development of rural infrastructure and income-generating activities.

To increase production and reduce the risk of further land degradation, the project promotes a programme of terrace construction and rehabilitation designed especially for areas with steep slopes and scarce forest cover. This activity addresses on-farm soil conservation and crop production problems through an integrated approach that requires effective interagency coordination and the establishment of close working relations among members of the rural community, and particularly between participating farmers and support services.

Criteria for the selection of project villages are the availability of farmer groups and the adoption potential for new technologies. Project activities are carried out by the group members, led by a group leader. In soil conservation efforts, the farmer groups construct terraces and water reservoirs and grow selected trees and grasses to fortify the terraces. To increase crop production, they work together in pest management and irrigation activities.

Microwatershed boundaries are determined by consensus among project officers, representatives of related agencies and farmers. The landowners within a given microwtershed comprise one farmer group. Group establishment is facilitated by agricultural as well as forestry field extension workers.

Group members usually divide themselves into subgroups to perform particular types of activities. Construction and maintenance of terraces and water canals are carried out collectively by all group members, while crop cultivation activities are usually carried out individually. The project provides the groups with planting materials and other necessary production inputs.

To evaluate programme activities, the farmer groups meet every week to discuss progress made, problems encountered and plans for the following season. The field extension workers provide advice and administrative and technical support to the farmers during the meetings.

In addition to the conservation- and production-related activities, the project also helps the villages to improve roads, such as access roads, village spur roads and asphalt surfacing, and increase water supply, through small water-gravity systems, rainwater catchment tanks, dug wells and pumping systems. With the spirit of gotong royong, the farmer groups are actively involved in the construction of these facilities.


To ensure the sustainability of agricultural development, extension programmes in Indonesia are carried out through a group-based approach and in compliance with natural resource conservation policies. Farmers' participation and the strong coordination among related governmental and private agencies are key aspects of the success of the programmes.

The spirit of gotong royong expressed by farmer groups functions as a strong internal motivation in promoting the collective action needed in natural resource conservation programmes. Extension strategies are more effective when based on farmers' needs and when farmer groups are the basis for cooperative works supported by appropriate research-based technology and intensive field-level training. Indonesia's experience with field schools shows that it is an effective method for promoting farmers' learning and participation in agricultural development.


Central Bureau of Statistics. 1990. "Statistical year book". Jakarta, Indonesia.

FAO-IPM Secretariat. 1993. "IPM farmer training: the Indonesia case". Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

IFAD. 1989. "Staff appraisal report of East Java rainfed agricultural project". Rome, International Fund for Agricultural Development.

Ministry of Agriculture. 1992. "Final report: water users association strengthening project". Ministry of Agriculture, Jakarta, Indonesia.

Pusat Pengembangan Agribusiness. 1988. "Study on upland agriculture in the South-Western Region of East Java". Jakarta, Indonesia.

Secretariat of Indonesia National Integrated Pest Management Programme. "The Indonesia IPM programme". Jakarta, Indonesia.

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