Farmers in Indonesia’s Christian majority East Nusa Tenggara province have agreed to stop using chemical fertilizers, and adopt church-sponsored organic farming.
Representatives from 30 farmer organizations made the declaration at the end of a weeklong meeting in Maumere, Sikka district.
The organizations are partners of Misereor — the international aid and development arm of the German Catholic bishops conference — and Massipag, a farmer-led network of people’s organizations, NGOs and scientists based in Philippine.
Some 70 percent of East Nusa Tenggara’s 5 million population are farmers.
"The farmers are committed to developing sustainable agriculture and supporting conservation of natural resources," said Herry Naif, project manager of Wahana Tani Mandiri, an NGO that assists farmers told ucanews.com on March 15.
"Farmers also refused government handouts containing chemicals," he said, adding that chemical fertilizers have a negative impact, especially on soil conditions.
"Farmers are complaining about declining soil fertility and their agricultural output is also diminishing," he said.
Father Andreas Wilibrodus Bisa, director of the Franciscan eco-pastoral center in Manggarai district, West Flores said the declaration is a sign of an increased awareness among farmers about environmental damage.
"It is of course based on their real experiences this development will encourage the church to actively campaign more for organic farming," he said.
Father Bisa said Franciscans have cultivated organic produce for more than 10 years and this form of agriculture can be a solution for farmers whose productivity has declined due to the use of chemicals.
The program, he said, has received a good response from the government. "In Manggarai district, the Education Department has required all schools to teach organic farming," he said.
In addition to the development of organic farming, he said, their efforts also focused on the conservation of forests and waterways.
"We’re encouraging farmers to leave for their children and grandchildren clear rivers and springs and not tears," he said.
Kris Bedha Somperpes, from Sun Spirit for Justice and Peace, a nongovernmental organization that promotes products produced by indigenous communities, said farmer dependence on chemical fertilizers and pesticides is already very high.
He pointed to Lembor, in West Manggarai regency, where there are 7,000 hectares of wetland, originally known as the granary, now experiencing serious problems.
"Farmers believe they have to use at least five types of chemicals," he said. "They think if they are not used they will not get results."
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