Oxfam is supporting a permaculture project for teaching techniques of cultivating chemical free produce. Credit: Jim Holmes/Oxfam
Oxfam is supporting a project for teaching techniques of cultivating chemical free produce.

Indonesia: Improving nutrition in an environmentally-friendly way

“People need to be aware and make their lives sustainable for long-term.”
Agriculture student

An Indonesian permaculture (permanent culture) school is teaching locals how to provide their own food and improve their nutrition in an environmentally-friendly way.

Deep in the valley hills a short drive north of Lhoogn, along a pot holed dirt track is a large green field. Wedged between some of Indonesia’s oldest rainforest and a glass clear river, this is Lamsujen. It used to be the frontline of a 20-year independence war between government soldiers and Acehnese separatist fighters. But since peace broke out after the tsunami, this fertile, tranquil land has become home to Aceh’s only permaculture school, GreenHand.

“Where we are standing used to be a battlefield,” says Roberto Hutabarat, 36, a former human rights worker from Medan who works with the Indonesian Development of Education and Permaculture Foundation which established GreenHand in 2005.

Going organic

Started in the 1970s, permaculture, or permanent culture, is an alternative to industrial agriculture, which some experts believe pollutes the environment as well as the food chain with chemical insecticides and pesticides. Permaculture is about using only local natural resources to provide organic, healthy, chemical-free food, while at the same time creating sustainable livelihoods that protect rivers and rainforests. But, most important of all in Aceh, it’s about teaching people how they can provide their own food and improve their nutrition.

GreenHand welcomes people from all walks of life. But priority goes to ex-combatants, tsunami survivors and illegal loggers like Muhammad Rahmi, aged 23. He was lucky. He survived the tsunami. Most of his family did not. In 2006 he attended GreenHand’s nine-day residential Permaculture design course and, then, three months’ intensive teaching training at the school.

Today Muhammad is a specialist in recycling grey and black water. GreenHand pays him $200 monthly, more than twice what he could earn in a city. “This is better than logging,” he says, “I share the money with my younger brother for the education.”

Training teachers

Since the school opened, 800 people have completed the course, with another 200 being trained as teachers. At the school, students learn how to develop alternative livelihoods.

The course costs each student 2 million Indonesian Rupiah ($217), which covers accommodation, all meals, training, manuals, seeds and tools. While demand for the course is high, some students are unable to afford the fees. To help overcome this Oxfam has given GreenHand funds to cover the fees of hundreds more students, primarily those affected by the tsunami. It also means the school, which previously accommodated, 30–35 students, can now hold up to 60 students.

Nurbaiti, 24, a graduate of agriculture from Kreung Kala had never heard of permaculture until friends told her about GreenHand. She could not afford the course fees, so she’s here on an Oxfam scholarship.

Nurbaiti plans to return to her village and share her new-found knowledge. “If there is a village meeting I will inform about the permaculture. People need to be aware and make their lives sustainable for long-term.”

Story by Ian Woolverton, Oxfam International, November 2007