Week 7: April 20th-27th. Bangka White Pepper Agroforestry
This week, it was my turn to join the team at the white pepper farm on Bangka Island and follow the workshop by Krisna Putra Waworuntu. As a part of the project for Verstegen Spices, reNature invited Krisna to give a workshop on agroforestry to the farmers working the land. It was also my moment to meet the team and see the progress.
A trip worth making
To get to Bangka Island is quite a journey. It took me up to 30 hours travel time from home to farm. A twelve hour flight to Singapore. Ferry to Batam, staying overnight, and next day a plane to Pangkal Pinang, thirty minute drive to the camp.
I really didn’t know what to expect. How was the team? What did the camp look like? Where would I sleep? How was the land? We decided months ago it was important for reNature’s current core team, Felipe, Tirion and me, to visit the project so we would have a better idea on what is actually happening on site. That alone made it a trip worth making.
Proud and inspired
The morning straight after my arrival, it was the second day of Krisna Putra’s workshop. It was the moment for me to meet him, the farmers and see the land. It was also the moment to realize the impact of reNature. Here I saw six volunteers and seven farmers being inspired to do things differently and to innovate agriculture. Krisna showed the downside of the current way of pepper farming; erosion, fungi and pests, leaving the land without any nutrition. He also showed how easy it is to farm in a nature friendly way; understanding the natural habitat of the pepper vine, being in touch with the soil and know what is needed. We did soil test, planted fruit trees, added missing natural nutrition to give the plants a kick start and surrounded the planted trees with mulch, straw and sawdust.
About Krisna Putra Waworuntu
Born in Bali 1993, Krisna grew up in a family farming environment, since 2008 lived in his father’s permaculture farm in Bumi Langit, Yogyakarta. But Krisna decided to go deeper into permaculture farming system by attending a Permaculture Design Course in 2012 by Robyn Francis and in 2015 attending an internship program by Geoff Lawton in the dead sea valley in Jordan.
Saturday we presented the project to local farmers. An important pillar of our approach to make agroforestry mainstream is to always connect local farmers and communities. The group of around 30 local pepper farmers were enthusiastic and full of questions. They had really looked into what we do and asked about everything, like why do you plant corn so close to each other?
The first results
Walking the one hectare in development you can see how much time and energy was put in to make it work. When the bare soil is visible you immediately realize the poor quality of the land. It looks sandy and arid, impossible to grow anything. Today after six weeks of hard work you can see corn sprouting up and grasses grow.
Today the tree rows are not more than rows of corn mixed 50 centimeter high trees on a 3 meter distance. With the growth speed of tropical plants, this place will look entirely different in a few months. Preta Terra did a great job making the agroforestry design. The tree rows will serve as biomass provider and bring shadow and moist for the pepper vines. In between the rows which are eight meters apart the vines will grow on gliricidia or gamal in Bahasa Indonesia.
People who know me also know I am a bit of a Foodie. I love to prepare, eat and taste great food. I basically eat everything that is prepared with love. Being Dutch I am used to eat Indonesian food. Rijsttafel is our national dish. With the team we went to the local market to eat Gado Gado and Nasi Goreng. At breakfast there was a plate of pisang goreng. Yayang, they were amazing.
Pisang Goreng literally translated means fried bananas. These battered and deep fried bananas are very popular in Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Sold by street vendors, they make great tea time snacks. They are best eaten straight out of the pan while the fried batter is hot and crunchy and the banana is sweet and warm.
Feeling like a movie star
The island of Bangka is not a popular destination. This means that being white, blond, tall, and bearded is quite a sight. The local people want to take pictures of you and their complete family, the whole girls football team and everybody in the restaurant. Even simply asking how long the bridge will be open is an experience. “Selfie, Selfie?”