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Planting Mangroves, Bringing Food to the Community

When Jumiati began to plant mangrove seedlings in her coastal village of Sei Ngalawan in North Sumatra, she did not envision that it would change the life of the community, helping local fishermen and providing extra income for their families. It started when Jumiati found herself in reduced circumstances marrying her fisherman husband. He would go for two days before bringing back the catch of the day.

Jumiati has set up a cooperative in Muara Tanjung in 2005 that provide food staples to fishermen’s wives in the community

Jumiati has set up a cooperative in Muara Tanjung in 2005 that provide food staples to fishermen’s wives in the community

“I had to wait for him to come back with his catch, otherwise I had nothing to cook, and I noticed the other women were also living like that,” said the 34 yeard old wife.  Like other farmers in the areas, her husband had to sail far out to the sea to find decent catch because the coral reefs surrounding their areas no longer support a rich marine life, one of the most noticeable impacts of rising temperatures caused by climate change. Out in the open sea, the fishermen were often at the mercy of unpredictable weather and wind pattern.

This is made worse by the decline of mangroves that once thrived along the coast. Elderly villagers recalled to her about the abundant of catch 30 years ago. They did not have to go far because the mangrove forest made marine lives in the area much richer. “I heard that if mangrove condition is good in a coastal area, the fishermen will bring home lots of catch. Elderly villagers told me that in the 1970s when there were still mangroves, they caught a lot more fish and shrimps,” she said. In the 1980s people began to build shrimp ponds at the expense of mangroves, she said.

Having been active in an environment organization before, the 34-year-old knew that she could at least help replant the mangroves. Together with her husband, she began to cultivate mangrove trees, using fruits they could find, a move that other villagers found strange.

“Many people asked me what I was doing, and I told them that if we wanted change we had to start from ourselves,” she said.
She also set up Muara Tanjung in 2005, first as a cooperative that provide food staples to fishermen’s wives in the community.
With seedlings donated by some non-governmental organizations, she continued to plant mangroves in her village, but she began to think of ways to increase the incomes of these fishermen families and helped them become more financially independent.
Already suffering from depleting catch, the fishermen were vulnerable to lenders, who provide loans for them to buy fishing needs, fix their boats, even to buy food and pay for their children’s schooling. The 10 percent interest rate they impose left the fisherman perpetually indebted, with most of their daily incomes being spent on repaying loans.

In 2006, Muara Tanjung developed a credit union, offering loans of up to Rp 4 million per member with an interest rate of less than a third of what the loan sharks charged. From 22 members when it started, the group has grown to 40, all women, who use the money for fishing purposes and send their kids to school. Most importantly, however, is that the credit union motivates its members to save money.

Meanwhile, the group continued to seek support for their efforts to repopulate the mangrove forest. In 2009, the local Fishery and Forestry office agreed to provide them with mangrove seedlings. Mangrove trees now cover about 7-hectares of the coastal area and they have begun to give economic benefits to the community.

In the past, fishermen had to sail 2 to 4 miles out to the sea on their small wooden boats, now they can catch fish as close as 1 mile off the coast. This reduced the amount of fuel used and the time needed to fish. Instead of sailing for a day and night in the sea, they would come home in the morning after a night of fishing.

The women harvest mangroves’ fruits, which they turn into various food products including sticky candy or dodol, crisps, and sweet syrup. They sell the products at the cooperative’s kiosk, as well as distribute them at some stores in town. Recently, the cooperative took its business to the next level, offering Mangrove ecotourism, combining an educative tour to see mangrove with culinary experience and a ride on sampan across the mangrove forest. For Rp 3,000, visitors can adopt a mangrove tree by buying a seedling that will be planted in the area. They can also learn to catch mangrove crabs from the local, and buy mangrove snacks at the kiosk.
With Rp 100 million grant it received from the British Council it has built a coffee shops, food stalls, meeting room and a hostel in the area, offering rooms at Rp 75,000 a night for visitors who choose to stay the night in the area.

“Our husbands are now very supportive after they understand that the wives are helping bringing additional income to the family,” said Jumiati. Free from the grip of businessmen who used to loan them money and bought their fish at lower-than-market price, the fishermen now have their own gears and can sell their catch at fair prices to the cooperative, which will sell the fish to grocers at market price. The margins made in the fish trade are deposited and split to all its members every year.

Jumiati is proud of the fact that her community group can achieve food resilience.  “People in the coastal areas are smart because they eat fresh fish and seafood,” she said.  With the right efforts, they do not have to depend on programs such as the government’s subsidized rice distribution program for underprivileged family known as Raskin, a short for Beras Miskin (poor people’s rice).
“People are happy when they receive raskin, but they never think that it makes them dependent on handouts, “ she said.

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