Most farmers in the Gunung Palung region use slash-and-burn methods of agriculture, clearing new areas of rain forest each year in search of fertile soil for their crops. With today’s population density, this method of farmingÂ means disappearing rain forests and fragile fragments of natural habitat for the local wildlife.
The ASRI program partners with and educates local communities about the importance of protecting Gunung Palung’s rain forests, which represent a critical watershed for about 60,000 people living in communities that border the park. With training in organic farming, farmers learn how to improve soil quality over time, eliminating the need to open new farmland in the park each year. Through ASRI’s organic farming program, farmers make a newÂ commitment to protect the forest. Instead of abandoning depleted plots after only a few years and relying on expensive fertilizers, farmers learn techniques to manage their farms sustainably â€“ and far more productively.
To date, ASRI has helped local communities establish five organic farms in villages that border the park. These successful farms now serve also as demonstration farms for their neighbors. The farms have created a local market for manure, a key ingredient in the organic compost that keeps these farms productive year after year, and an item that previously had no local value. Empowered by their work with ASRI, one group of farmers petitioned the local government for a cow that would provide manure for compost. Ultimately the government gave them 22 cows, and the group gave ten to another community farm!
Next year, ASRI will focus its organic farming program on teaching communities how to cultivate rice using organic methods. Rice is life in West Kalimantan — most farmers grow it. One local farmer doubled his yield in his first year of using organic methods on his rice farm. We encourage vegetable growing because it yield higher profits, but if we can popularize organic rice cultivation, this has potential to have even widerspread effects in the Gunung Palung area, decreasing annual rates of deforestation.