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Common mistakes with implementing Agroforestry

Report Week 3 & 4, March 30-April 12 , Bangka White Pepper Agroforestry

We got too excited working hard on the implementation of our system that we ended up forgetting about the basics. As mentioned in the previous article, land management is a crucial step to the success of any Agroforestry project, and that is exactly where we ended up committing some mistakes.

Uneven grounds & weeding techniques

The plots we are working on had some major holes which makes the terrain uneven and susceptible to erosion. A few days after we planted the seeds there was a torrential rain in Bangka – a very common fenomena for this time of the year, given that February is the rainy season. The result was a considerable erosion of the sawdust, leaving the soil exposed and the seedlings vulnerable – and a lot of rework to apply sawdust all over again.

Another silly mistake was forgetting to weed the plot before planting the seeds. Unwanted grass and herbs can compete with our crops and need to be removed in advance. As soon as we realized the weeds were taking over the space of our seedlings, we had to weed them right away, only taking double the time it would otherwise. We had to weed manually and very careful not to remove our babies instead of the unwanted plants.

Learning from our mistakes

After these two major mistakes, we got together as a group to brainstorm and discuss what we could have done differently. Some of the insights were to simply observe more and follow our intuition. We don’t have to be Agroforestry experts to realise that uneven terrain can cause erosion on rainy seasons. To some extent everyone had the feeling that neither the holes in the ground nor planting before weeding felt right – yet we were all tired, busy and caught on our own daily tasks that we ended up forgetting to speak up to the group.

Improvising with Bamboo

After the sawdust got washed by the rain, we decided to test a new technique: physical barriers made out of bamboo, an abundant raw material found within the property. From chopping down bamboo trees, to cutting them into smaller pieces and placing them into the lines – we did it all. Bamboo is a fantastic and sustainable material to work with, but it also requires extra caution due to its sharp edges.

Two extra days of work and our first plot was ready! Modesty aside, the job was excellent and our lines gained an extra charm. More importantly, our seedlings were protected from the rain: the testing was a success! As for the weeding, there was no other choice than working a few extra hours to remove them all. Luckily, we had some extra help from our amazing local farmers.

(Picture of tree lines showing the bamboo)

Despite our mistakes, we were happy to learn from them and to discuss improvements to our plot after all. We have surely learned the hard way, but we feel much more confident now, and we will never forget the basic rules of uneven terrain & weeding. Another important learning was to always step back and keep the big picture in mind instead of focusing on one isolated task – not only Agroforestry wise, but in all aspects of our lives.

Visiting local farmers: a nice ending to our week

The week ended a little better than it started since we finally took the time to dive into a field study with some local farmers around the Namang region of Bangka Island. We visited a few farms, including a white pepper field, a rubber extraction site and dragon fruit plantation. As avid dragon fruit eaters, we were slightly more excited about the last one.

Dragon Fruit

A highlight and pleasant surprise about our visit was that, unintentionally, every farmer cultivates Agroforestry at some extent. The white pepper farm, for instance, had a least 10 more species combined with the cash crop, including papaya, banana, water pumpkin and other crops for their own consumption. When questioned about the reason to include other plant species in his plot, he said to be just following the inherited knowledge passed on his family generations. Once again we attest the importance of preserving traditional knowledge in favor of environmental conservation.

Team at Indonesian Watermelon Plantation

Naturally, we have also observed a few faulty practices too, such as uncovered ground and the use of pesticides in the totality of the farms visited. A shocking practice spotted on the rubber extraction site was the deposit of trash all over the plot, making the farm look more like a landfill than anything else. Trying to understand the logic behind it, we realised they use organic waste to fertilize the soil – only they skip separating the organic trash from the plastic materials and end up leaving everything on the ground. When we think everyone has access to this kind of basic knowledge on waste management, we see how important is to bring education to vulnerable communities.

Plastic Rubbish in Indonesian Forest

Overall, the farmers were really knowledgeable about their field, market, price fluctuations and land management. As expected, they were all extremely friendly and kind to us, always willing to help and answer our questions with a positive approach. This field study was very important to the next following weeks because the information gathered from the farmers helped us clarify some questions and make decisions on the next steps of our Agroforestry implementation, which we will detail in the next article.