Week 2: March 23th-29th. Bangka White Pepper Agroforestry

Weeks are flying by for the Bangka Changemakers and the agroforestry system is already taking shape!

Soil preparation and land management

The first step into an Agroforestry implementation is to prepare the land and soil for the plants to come. Soil management is crucial for any agricultural practice given its role of storing nutrients and water that will support the system throughout their entire lifecycle. The richer the soil is, the healthiest and productive the Agroforestry will become.

Therefore, we focused a good part of our first efforts on improving land conditions and soil fertility. Practically speaking, that meant removing old roots from rubber trees that previously occupied the land, so they won’t attract fungus and pests; and (literally!) cleaning the plots by collecting all the trash deposited in the land by the local population – the last one being a topic by itself, worthy of a full article on waste management in Indonesia, but let’s leave it for another time.

After clearing the land, it was time to fertilize the soil! We have broadcasted a mixture of land plaster, dolomite and a seeds mix on the plot. Three layers of 100% natural and organic fertilizers so our Agroforestry is free from any chemical products! All this process took us quite some time, requiring a lot of energy and teamwork.

Implementing dolomite

Once the soil was ready, we spent quite some time marking the land with both bamboo and wood sticks. This step is extremely important to guide us during the implementation, so we know exactly where each plant species will be introduced in the system. The agroforestry design is usually complex and full of biodiversity. Signalizing as clear as possible the right spot where each species should be planted is crucial for a more effective implementation. In our case, we used short bamboo sticks to represent white pepper trees (our cash crop) and longer wooden sticks to represent the tree line.

We have collected and shaped the sticks ourselves by cutting small bamboo and perennial trees located within our farm territory. It was very satisfying going from problem to solution in a resourceful way and realizing we can count on nature to provide us with most imputs needed to implement our Agroforestry system 🙂

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Land and soil ready, time to process the seeds!

By the end of the week, we were already able to plant our first seeds in the soil!

Through a collective decision, we chose to start the implementation by the service trees. These are the species that will provide biomass, shade, water and nutrients to the system – hence the service on their name. Agroforestry systems must contain services species according to their adaptability to the local environment and social context. In our case, the species chosen were Banana, Corn, Moringa, Raintree, Papaya and a few others yet to be decided by the local farmers.

Listening to locals is an essential practice to the success of such a project. They are the who will directly manage and benefit from the biodiversity of the system. The happier they are about them, the more they will take good care of them – and, consequently, improve their quality of life.

A very significant process concerning the seeds is the Scarification, which is basically “waking them up” to encourage their germination. Scarification turns seeds coat permeable to water and air, which can be done mechanically, thermally or chemically, depending on the type of seeds. We were able to do it manually by shaking and mixing them with our hands on a wheelbarrow.

Seeds scarified, everyone back to the land to start planting! Twelve long tree lines later and a full day of work, seeds were all in the ground. But that is not done yet… The first basic and very important rule of a healthy Agroforestry is: covered soils! Bare soils are synonym of vulnerability and a higher chance of nutrients loss through water drainage. Therefore, after planting the seeds we added a couple more manure, mainly chicken excrements produced within the farm. Finally, we covered the soil with sawdust, which is light enough so seedlings can sprout through and heavy enough to kill undesirable weeds that will compete with our dear baby service trees.

Carrying all these bags of sawdust was not an easy task, but a couple of days later we were lucky enough to spot the first sprouts of our seeds!! It was a great feeling of `work accomplished` that fulfilled the entire team!. We are here to make a difference and this is the first result of the sweat we are (literally) leaving in this ground.

Sounds easy, but it is not!

After a full week of hard work in the farm, our main feeling is respect and gratitude! Respect and gratitude for all the farmers that work hard to produce the food that fill our plates. Consumers would raise awareness of the hard work behind a simple meal they eat in 15 minutes. Everyone should have a farming experience once in their lives to value more the food we eat, the products we consume and especially the plant species we waste. Maybe by wearing other people’s shoes for one day we could, for instance, tackle the one-third wasted food index we currently reach worldwide.

Let`s think about our role as consumers and appreciate more our farmers!


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