February 5, 2015

Linking Food Security, Climate Adaptation and Carbon Management: A Case Study from Indonesia

Yulius P. K. Suni, Institute of Resource Governance and Social Change Jonatan A. Lassa, Nanyang Technological University

Farmers in North Central Timor face local environmental degradation such as soil erosion, water stress, recurrent droughts and erratic climate. These environmental problems are likely to be more intensive and extensive in the context of Timor Island. Failure to address these environmental problems will leave this vulnerable region less resilient in the face of future climate change. At the same time, there is an increase in concern on how to mitigate global climate change at the local level.

The reduction of CO2 emissions has been the global imperative. However it is also imperative to feed the projected 9 billion people in 2050. To ensure that these imperatives are mutually achieved, both local level intervention and innovation are necessary. This article shows how local level action ensures food security through initiatives that also reduce CO2 emissions and conserve land and water in a local context in West Timor, Indonesia.

A pilot project of Food for Carbon Free was conducted in Oinbit village, West Timor, Indonesia in 2008. The goal of the project was to improve food security and make carbon trade possible. The project was supported by a collaborative effort from Bina Swadaya Foundation and the local government supported by the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and the Carbon Free Consulting Corporation (CFC) of Japan.

The project was also aimed at assessing local perspectives to determine farmer needs. One of the authors (Suni) conducted a combination of field observations, semi-structured interviews and informal interviews on 29 farming plots.

Application of intercropping (cassava, papaya, magohani, cashew nut) on a farm plot in the project site. Photo by Yulius Suni

Application of intercropping (cassava, papaya, magohani, cashew nut) on a farm plot in the project site. Photo by Yulius Suni

Adoption depends on direct incentives

Failure to recognize erosion symptoms often made local farmers delay or ignore the need to adopt land and water conservation measures that are pertinent to adaptation as well as mitigation. It is clear that awareness may arise from the ability to recognize symptoms of a local environmental crisis. However, awareness does not necessarily lead to a decision to adopt adaptation measures, especially if adoption is an expense or new methods are unfamiliar. It means adoption still depends on direct incentives, as incentives have been imperatives for the farmers to get involved in solving their own environmental problems and at the same time are useful in addressing carbon management. The farmers involved in the project were incentivized to make use of the existing abandoned land and at least 108 hectares of abandoned land have been transformed into considerably productive farmland.

Committee Leader standing with his crops. Photo by Yulius Suni.

Committee Leader standing with his crops. Photo by Yulius Suni.

Collective action and leadership are key

Despite its positive contribution to physical metrics, incentives also contribute to social aspects of local life such as encouraging collective work to strengthen community ties and enhancing development of local leaders. Some farmers can still ask group members to work together on other plots without any payment except providing lunch. However, this continued collective work is taken as the accelerator of normal farming practices instead of adopting introduced conservation measures. The project is managed by a committee and while currently only committee leaders are active, their role in the village is of high importance. The leaders work with the village government to protect the farmland from animal intrusion and wild fire.

Diversification is key to food security and adaptation

The application of intercropping (combining food crops and cash crops) contributes to availability of resources. Since most of the farmers in the study failed to grow seasonal food crops due to erratic climatic conditions, farmers could take short term measures to generate income by selling cash crops such as cassava, peanuts and papaya. The cash gained by the farmers is used to procure other types of stable foods (e.g. corn). Intercropping innovation can ensure food availability and accessibility.

Yulius P.K. Suni is a researcher at the Institute of Resource Governance and Social Change with previous experience working for an international NGO (CRS) and UN agency (WFP) for 9 years in NTT province, Indonesia. His MSc study was on Land and Water Management in Wageningen University, Netherlands.
Jonatan A. Lassa is a research fellow at the Center for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS) at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University and a co-founder of the Institute of Resource Governance and Social Change.

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  • Edward paul Munaaba
    February 10, 2015 at 7:32am

    I would further like to get in touch with the Carbon Free Consulting in Japan however their website is in Japanes which is a problem can they get back to me in English we have a project in Mabira Tropical rainforest in Uganda that we would need to work together

    kind regards

    Edward Paul Munaaba
    Executive Director
    Africa Partnership on Climate Change Coalition
    tel +256 758 650197
    Wats Up app can be found on +256758650197