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Willie Smits @ PV1 - Village Based Permaculture Approaches in Indonesia

Posts: 3463
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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Me again!

So, are you sad that you didn't get to go to the Permaculture Voices conference? Did you go but you can't remember what was said? Well, I am an obsessive note taker (most of the time) and I took notes at most of the talks I attended.

I will share them here with you!

Please note that this is in no way a transcription. These are my notes, taken in real time, on the fly, whilst trying to look at the slides and follow along. I find that note taking helps me synthesize information. None of this should be construed as an accurate quotation, even when I put it in quotes. (For example, I'm pretty sure not a single speaker used the utterance "Yo.") Much of the time, I am trying to summarize and it's entirely possible that I've gotten some things wrong.

My next notes document is Willy Smits. The topic this time was "Village Based Permaculture Approaches in Indonesia"


Willy Smits

Our society (in Indonesia) is still about 70% agricultural. We have places with fertile soil but also very poor soil. With more than 17000 islands and hundreds of different cultures, it’s hard to provide one technical solution. There are commonalities in the problems farmers face, one of them being modern agriculture. It would be better to go like Cuba did when they got boycotted.

We have marvelous indigenous systems, like the Hindu Subak system on Bali. This is sustainable irrigation that has been going on for thousands of years. Now, it is threatened by tourism. The whole system of water distribution is collapsing.

We have the Dayak Lembo system in Kalimantan, this is sustainable agroforestry. They come, find a place, they determine a good place, they slash and burn and when they plant the rice they also plant trees, and rattan. They’ve had 80 year cycles for ages, but now they’re being restricted to stay in one place permanently.

We have a system of the Mapalus Agriculture in North Sulawesi. They work with each other and have great agricultural efficiency.

Willy likes to to do Top Down, Bottom Up planning.
He’s looking for systematic approaches of implementing the best local options for land use. The options are formulated in terms of social acceptability, ecological sustainablitilty and economic feasiblitlity. He’s using GIS as the basic tool to do the planning. Integrating various data bases and models. and finally deducting and formulating specific plans.

Willy really likes the Sugar Palm, he thinks it could be the permaculture tree for Indonesia

Adaptation leads to survival of the fittest. Through adaptation to smaller ecologic niches, specialization arises and better survival.

For the sugar palm, you can come up with a physical suitability map (where it could grow) Then, smaller scale process on a regional level. We look at all the data and combine with the map, and we find a map of suitability and a map of constraint. From this, you get a map scaled for where it would be good to plant sugar palm. Then you get more specific, looking at individual fields. We have thousands of subterranean fires, that’s a thing to take into account.

In Holland, we share information at community gardens, lots of tiny gardens together with amazing productivity. In asia, similar information is shared and some complex systems exist (picture: ducks in a rice paddy, with another plant in there for the ducks to eat).

We can model an individual tree, figure out how much of each mineral the tree with need, how much carbon is sequestered. You can model a multi species forest if you have enough computing power. A diverse multi species forest will produce twice as much sugar per hectare as sugar cane, while having all the other crops and plants. The mono crop is much less efficient, really.

Look at this mixed sugar palm forest on steep slopes, we can still let people have the flat land for their typical agriculture.

Slide: Sugar Palm versus Oil Palm. (sugar palms kicks oil palm’s, eh, trunk)

Where we have planted forests, it did not flood when every other place flooded. People are starting to talk about this. The farmers are able to harvest rice three times a year instead of two. Sugar palms are special because they have roots that can go 12 meters down. “They are like tropical comfrey.” It has a male flower that you can tap for sugar. It produces the energy equivalent of 82 barrels of oil per hectare per year. It’s so cool, because you’re not removing nutrients other than sugar, so you are not depleting the soil.

The sugar palm has 65 different products. The fiber is so strong. The fruit is a delicacy. It’s a bulwark against famine for a village, out there in the forest.

We do (highly complex) integrated planning, looking at the species database, market trends and costs, local cost and labor data, locations, physical condition of same, leading to species selection and formulation of a recipe/formula/template. Once we have the recipes, we will “drape” them on the map. We can then determine how many jobs we will create, how much cash flow we will generate, to come up with a work and business plan. Then, after actually starting the project, we monitor and adjust.

Willy is trying to work with integrated silviculture, integrating many different species with different spacing, with optimal sunlight utilization through a succession of species that also will reduce loss of nutrients.

"I think you all call this permacuture."

In classical forestry, you have short rotations of 5-8 years, or long rotation of 35 years (less desirable economically). We are coming up with various mixed recipes for different situations, with multiple species planted in succession. (Shows a succession, the cassava gives way to the bananas, the support trees are thinned to let the bananas finish, then the bananas are removed. . . )

Now photos of this sort of project. We clear out the brush forest, plant the cassava, plant the little trees. We can get 100 tons of cassava in 120 days (ed: I think).

More computer modeling, looking at different percentages of recipe 1 versus recipe 2.

And now, computer models to look at the effects of various projects “downstream.” It’s all included, for maximum transparency. You can say what factors are most important, and then that will show which project is best for those priorities.

There are a lot of problems with modern agriculture in Indonesia—it’s dependent on artificial fertilizers and pesticides. This “more efficient” agriculture leads to loss of jobs and local people leaving the countryside for the cities.

There is no such thing as sustainable palm oil. It does not exist. The only way to get rid of them is to outcompete them—to make more money with the sugar palms.

Solutions? We need to have land use systems that are less dependent on fertilizers and pesticides. We need to help improve the lives of the people there.

So, working with the Mapalus people, we start by interviewing all the farmers, asking them to identify their land on a satellite image. Ask them what they’ve grown there, how did that go, what did you sell it for. With all the information, you can map out all the plots of land and how they performed with various crops.

We look at marketing data, what’s needed nearby, what could be exported. We check out what species did well at which locations. We come up with a plan that is based on the best species and “recipes” for each location, with timing for best growth and marketing, and (important) the same profit for each farmer. We also have to track the effects on water flows—are we increasing the chance of flooding?

We get so organized, telling everyone when to plant their potatoes so that they’re all ready on the same date, so they can share a boat to deliver the potatoes. We give each farmer a plan, saying on this date you will plant this. We can tell them why as well. We can help each individual farmer optimize the use of their land. We are bringing back hope in these people.

Here, we have a sugar palm plantation. The farmers needed heat to cook off the water from their tapped palms, and the geothermal company needed water to help with cooling. There were able to trade their excess and solve each other’s problems.

To get this project going, we had a palm wine contest with a big cash prize. That brought all the sugar palm tappers and then after feeding them a meal they asked the tappers how they could pay them for their sugar juice. They came up with a plan, and it was pretty good, except that the women suspected not all the money was getting home. So, now the money is directly transferred to the bank account every week. Perhaps now the men are not quite as happy. . .

Willy has come up with a village hub activity, where you combine palm juice with yeast and make ethanol fuel, come up with an electricity supply, biogas, animal feed, compost, local sugar, etc. We can sell 80% of the palm juice and use 20% for all these needs, making life better for the people in the remote villages.

The hard part is where can you get the trust of the local people.

*Where we have planted all these trees, there is 30% more rain, there are 7 new springs so many families have clean drinking water.*

We are building an animal rescue center (I think for orangutans) and permaculture center on 150 acres and I hope you can come out and share your expertise as we do some demonstration projects.

Q: how can you attract investment for projects such as you’ve described?
A: yes, that is how the village hub factories were financed. The financiers had to come up with a quarter million dollars to build the factory, they had to give 49% of the ownership to the local people. It took only a year to make back the invested money and now going forward the local people’s income is tripled and the investors continue to make money.

Q: how do you save orangutans
A: by helping the people so they don’t hunt for bush meat. By providing plastic skulls for their ceremonies to replace monkey skulls that they have been using (rather than human skulls which were the original).

Q: how can you help unilever to get out of the palm oil business
A: I am trying. They don’t like me very much. I told them that palm oil production can NOT be sustainable.

Q: how much did the reforesting project cost?
A: It was about $3500 per hectare, maybe $1500 per acre.

Q: is there any way we can use some of your models/strategies where we are (in Mexico)?
A: Well, this is why we are building a permaculture center, so people can come and learn from us what we are doing

Q: could this work in dry areas?
A: Theoretically, the modeling systems could be used in dry land, but that’s not a project for me to take on. I’ve got a lot to do in Indonesia.

Q: what’s this about using religion to bring the message across?
A: in Borneo, we are working with the Catholic church. They have lawyers who are suing the oil companies on behalf of the villager. The muslim leaders have issued a fatwah urging Muslims to respect wildlife and . . .

sorry, I guess my fingers failed me at that point!
Posts: 926
Location: Federal Way, WA - Western Washington (Zone 8 - temperate maritime)
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Wow, again, Julia. I have been to the conference (the easy way :)... with the real-time tweets and photos, your spectacular stenography (a shorthand whiz!), the driving-back-to-the-airport podcast.... and maybe 'house' photos to come? ;) And it is really the soul of Permaculture... synergy.. sharing and generosity really do make the whole so much greater than the sum of its parts ;) Thanks again.
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Is this the same Willy Smits ?

Julia Winter
Posts: 3463
Location: Moved from south central WI to Portland, OR
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Rocket Mass Heater Plans: Annex 6" L-shaped Bench by Ernie and Erica
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