Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. This bible verse becomes one of our guidelines in encouraging and motivating farmers to unite and build a farmer groups. Alone we can do so little. Together we can do so much.
I joined PETRASA, a non-government and non-profit organisation in 2008, and since then, I have learned many things about working with villagers and organizing farmers. The majority of farmers in this district are coffee farmers and rice farmers from different backgrounds and tribes. Farmers need unity to create strength for them to improve their bargaining position and welfare. The union of smallholder farmers is a great strength.
In order to organize farmers, we need to find the right strategies and methods to be applied in the village. We take several steps in organizing farmers.
Understanding the Community
First of all, we need to come directly to the village. In approaching the community, we must study and identify the situation and how people live in the area. In the Batak tribe, during the evening, men usually gather in a coffee shop or shop that sells traditional local wine, and women usually chat and gather in the house yard. We join them there. We must be a part of them, participating in the gathering. Through the chat, we learn the general conditions in the village and the problems and challenges faced by farmers.
After the conversation, we then communicated with village elders, village heads, or church pastors. Approaching through the church is the choice we often take since the majority of farmers are Christian. Pastors are figures who are highly respected in society. To them, we conveyed our intention to help smallholder farmers through various programs and activities to increase farmers' capacity.
Then, we continue to identify the problems and needs of the villagers, particularly the farmers. The biggest problem faced by smallholder farmers are difficulties in getting capital and accessing soft loans. This is due to the lack of financial institutions in the village, so farmers usually borrow money from moneylenders at very high interest rates. Even if there is a bank, farmers still find it difficult to get a loan because there are no guarantee documents and certificates of belonging. Most farmers are land tenants in the village.
Seeing these conditions, through PETRASA, we built a credit union in the village with the strong principles "by them, from them and for them." In a credit union, members can borrow funds at lower interest rates. In addition to savings and loan activities, this group is also a place for farmers to gather and build solidarity. CU meetings are held every month so that relationships and coordination between members can be maintained and grow.
Organic Farming Trainings
Through the CU group, we provide training on organic farming. Smallholder farmers are given an understanding of the importance of organic farming. Organic farming was developed to reduce farmers' dependence on the purchase and use of chemical fertilizers. Organic fertilizers are made from various natural resources that are available in nature and can be found around the farmers' houses. Farmers are given an understanding of the importance of land and nature for the future of living things.
We also encourage farmers to participate in nature conservation through their profession as farmers. In various meetings with farmers, we also constantly stressed that the farmer's profession is a very noble profession and that farmers must be proud of their role as food heroes. This is important, so they will have self confidence. In addition, we also provide insight into the market opportunities of organic agriculture. Farmers need to know that demand for organic products continues to increase every year, so this becomes a big opportunity for farmers to increase family income.
Major Challenges and Solutions
In organizing farmers, we face a number of challenges, including farmers' mistrust of outsiders. In this case, mistrust of us as organizers can be overcome by involving elders and religious leaders. The second challenge is the low self-confidence of farmers to participate in the organization, which can be caused by the level of education or family financial conditions. To overcome this, we need to give continuous motivation, both from us as organizers and from other members in informal discussion in their house. Farmers need to help and support each other.
To empower farmers, we must play an equal role with them. We don’t act as a teacher, not as a fund donor and not as a hero for all their problems. The organizer must act as a partner who plays a role in providing motivation, listening, and together looking for solutions to challenges. When we are in the community, we also have to behave well, be polite, not show vanity, use simple clothes, and follow the culture there.
Generally, the steps of organizing farmer's group are:
Identifying the village and the community
Identifying needs and problems faced by the community
Identifying community leaders, village leaders or elders and coordinating with them
Having a gathering and discussion with villagers and giving explanations with simple methods, using local language that is easily understood by the community
Developing the organizational structure
Monitoring and evaluation
Through farmer’s organisations, farmers can increase their capacity in agriculture and learn how to express opinions in public. Also, the organizations make it easier for farmers to access various programs, both from government and non-government organisations.The union can be used as a vehicle for protection and enhancement of bargaining capabilities. Farmers groups are one essential aspect of rural development.