Returning to life as a farmer

Conservation agriculture in Indonesia gives farmers choices other than migration

Climate change is hitting developing countries and island states, like Indonesia, the hardest. Changing weather patterns meant that Amaq no longer made enough money off of his farm to feed his family. He thought migration was his only option. ©FAO/Zaenudin Mansyur


Munggah aq Amaq Genap, a 58-year-old farmer from Sekaroh Village in Indonesia, looks serious but content. He has the build of someone who has been a farmer for all his life. Amaq planted corn once a year. If there was rain, his harvest was good. If there wasn’t, his harvest was poor. But with the changes in climate, he was finding that he could hardly grow enough maize to meet his family’s needs.

In the last years, climate change has been affecting when the rains come and how much there is. Temperature norms are changing, sea levels are rising and extreme weather events are becoming more frequent. Indonesia is already prone to events like tsunamis, earthquakes, floods and landslides. As climate change intensifies, so does the frequency and magnitude of these events. Developing countries and island states like Indonesia are the hardest hit.

With increasingly unpredictable rains and more than seven dry months a year in Indonesia, farmers have been struggling to make ends meet. For Amaq, the situation was becoming too difficult. He just couldn’t make enough money off of his farm.

Like many people who feel that they have no other choice, Amaq decided to migrate to earn a better income and try to improve his family’s life. He made the risky and bold decision to go to Malaysia and work in construction. 

“Being a migrant worker far away from home and loved ones is a kind of deprivation. I did not enjoy it at all,” he says.

Climate-smart agriculture helps farmers become more resilient to the effects of climate change on agriculture while also helping to reduce agriculture’s impact, for example greenhouse gas emissions, on the environment. ©FAO/ Zaenudin Mansyur

More than 75 percent of the world’s poor and food insecure live in rural areas and depend on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods. A large share of them become migrants.

By helping farmers find better techniques that increase their resilience to climate change and improve their incomes, FAO is strengthening rural communities and giving people the option to stay home.

These new techniques work to off-set the effects of climate change on agriculture while also helping to reduce agriculture’s impact, like greenhouse gas emissions, on the environment. FAO calls this Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA).

After some time in Malaysia, Amaq decided to come back to his village and rekindle his passion for farming. Driven to make his farm a success, he borrowed money from the bank, using his land as collateral. Amaq was still cultivating his fields in a traditional manner when he came into contact with FAO’s conservation agriculture techniques. He decided to try this new approach.

Conservation agriculture (CA) is part of the broader CSA approach. It teaches farmers to disturb the soil as little as possible, keep the soil covered, and mix and rotate crops. These methods produce high crop yields while reducing production costs, maintaining the soil fertility and conserving water. It is a way to achieve sustainable agriculture and improve livelihoods. CA techniques have been introduced to provinces in Indonesia since late 2013 with very good results, but it requires a shift in thinking.

“At first, I had doubts about the CA approach. How can this work: not tilling the soil and the farm dirty with crop residues?” he wondered.

However, Amaq began applying CA techniques for the 2015-2016 planting season. Instead of tilling the soil, he used crop residues as mulch and applied organic fertilizers to provide nutrients for the soil. He also planted chili peppers among maize that had been harvested earlier – a method to minimize soil erosion and to increase soil fertility.   

Farmers practicing climate-smart agriculture are seeing a significant increase in yields as well as incomes. These improvements help to give rural people options other than migration. ©FAO/Zaenudin Mansyur

There was a prolonged drought during this season and the threat of crop failure was real. To his surprise, despite crops failing in surrounding areas, the maize on his farm kept growing. These results encouraged him to use CA techniques for the following season too. He expanded his land to 1 hectare and planted a different type of maize seed. His harvest averaged 7.6 tons per hectare, earning him US$ 2,076.

“This is a very extraordinary yield, something that I have never experienced before. With the money, I was able to pay off the amount (US$ 358) I borrowed from the bank, putting aside some money as savings for my children’s education. I also bought goats; I have 12 goats now,” he says proudly.

“Compared to my income as a construction worker in Malaysia, I am now better off as a farmer thanks to CA techniques,” he concludes.

Amaq is a member of the Moga Sukses Farmer Group of Sekaroh Village. The group of 35 members started practicing CA on demonstration plots in 2014. Amaq and his fellow farmers were among the first to practice CA on their own farms in the West Nusa Tenggara Province.

Now, in the East Nusa Tenggara and West Nusa Tenggara provinces, CA practices have been expanded to more than 650 farmer groups with more than 12 500 members. These farmers are seeing a significant increase in maize yields as well as earning additional income from beans, chili peppers and other inter-crops.

The Indonesian government plans to scale up the technique as part of the CSA intervention and mainstream it into agricultural practices across the country to support the national food security programme.

By investing in rural people and their livelihoods, FAO works to give people choices.

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2. Zero hunger, 8. Decent work and economic growth, 10. Reduced inequalities