Climate change impacts: voices from the villages

Down to Earth 83, December 2009

While crucial climate talks proceed at international level, how are the lives of local communities being affected by climate change? In November, Indonesia's Civil Society Forum for Climate Justice held two Climate Hearings in Jakarta to try and present some answers to this question. The following is adapted from DTE's translation of a new CSF report 'From Krui to Timor - how farmers and fishing communities are facing climate change'.

Many farmers in Indonesia are finding it difficult to choose the best planting season because their predictions about the rainy season are often incorrect. It is not only difficult to tell when the rainy season will start - the rainy season seems to have become shorter, too.

The effects of climate change differ depending on the location. Rainfall, for instance, has changed in a different way in the parts of the country which lie north of the equator than it has to the south.

For farmers these changes are not just a question of timing - they also mean increased uncertainty when deciding which crops and varieties to plant. Additionally, changing patterns in the timing, duration and total rainfall of the rainy season affect the spread of pests and weeds and increase the risk of floods. The vulnerability and coping capacity of farmers differs widely depending on whether their fields are rain-fed or irrigated and whether they are located near the higher or lower reaches of rivers or close to an irrigation channel. Rice farmers have different problems and adaptation strategies to farmers who mainly plant maize.

Fishing communities are facing similar challenges. Erratic climate patterns make it difficult for them to determine when to fish and they often face unfavourable conditions. In the morning, they set off with an easterly wind but by noon strong westerly winds force them to return.

Fishermen using small boats and engines of less than 5 horsepower very much depend on seasonal wind patterns, as opposed to those using larger boats which can better handle strong winds and high waves.

Climate change is also having an impact on health, although this is not often discussed. The incidence of diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and diarrhoea has increased over the last 40 years (WHO, 2007). To date no comprehensive research has been carried out in Indonesia on the impact of climate change on the incidence of these diseases. However, recent studies show a connection between the occurrence of the weather phenomenon El Nino and an increase in the number of cases of malaria, as well as a link between rainfall and a higher incidence of dengue fever. These conclusions are based on data collected over a short period of time - and therefore often interpreted as due to climate variation (as opposed to longer term climate change).

The Indonesian government has yet to pay real attention to this critical situation. Although some measures have been taken to improve people's preparedness for climate change, they are often not particularly useful for those whose livelihoods depend on fishing and farming. The government's strategy to prepare its citizens for climate change is very limited in scope and not easily put into practice.

Indonesia, climate change and maldevelopment

Indonesia is an archipelago of 17,000 islands with a wealth of natural resources spread over an area the size of western Europe. In 2006, the population stood at 220 million people - 65% of which live on Java.

For the last 40 years the country has been a testing ground for a model of economic growth based on the export of raw materials and semi-finished goods, financed by debt, and operated by an authoritarian and corrupt regime.

Now, the country is harvesting the bitter fruit of this development model, signalled by declining standards of living, safety and productivity required to meet daily needs, plus a decline in people's capacity to safeguard nature and the services it provides. Climate change has introduced a new paradigm in debates about the environment. This isn't a new problem but the accumulated impact of an unsustainable development model in Indonesia and internationally. A model where production and consumption are geared to the sole goal of making profit. This, plus exploitative natural resource management sowed the seeds of the problem we know today as global warming and climate change.

Fundamentally, the problem of climate change is bound up with the unjust way that natural resources and development have been controlled, where the imbalance between the industrialised countries of the north and the global South is the key issue.

The case of Molo is example of exploitative development which has left natural resources - and the local community depending on them - more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change than they would otherwise have been. In Molo, in Timor, Nusa Tenggara Timur province, marble mining, inappropriate reforestation, nature reserve zoning and the commercial exploitation of water resources have weakened the natural resource base (see below).





To address this issue, and to the present the diversity of problems affecting farmers and fishing communities, the Civil Society Forum for Climate Justice (CSF) organised a dialogue between policy makers and local people who are already suffering climate change impacts. Two Climate Hearings were held in Jakarta in November 2009.

During the hearings, representatives of farming and fishing communities provided evidence of the effect climate change is already having on their everyday lives. They reported on the risks they face and the measures they have undertaken to address these risks without any government support.

Government institutions involved in public programmes for adaptation to climate change were invited to the hearings - including BMKG (the Indonesian Agency for Meteorology, Climatology and Geophysics), the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, the Department of Health, members of the House of Representatives (DPR), and the National Development Planning Agency (Bappenas). The National Council on Climate Change (DNPI) was also invited.

CSF & H.E.L.P.

The Indonesian Civil Society Forum for Climate Justcie (CSF) is a forum of 30 non-governmental organisations; its objective is to place climate justice at the centre of natural resource management and development.

CSF believes that the response to climate change must be based on the "HELP" principles, where H= human security, E= ecological debt, L= land rights, and P= patterns of production and consumption. The main requisite of HELP is public participation at all levels of decision making, especially by those groups particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Website: See also See also DTE 82




Climate insecurity in flood prone areas

Perfect timing: how the planting season follows local flood predictions

(Kamsari and Rasin, farmers from Santing Village, Losarang subdistrict, Indramayu district - West Java province)

The village of Santing lies beside the Cipanas river between the Pantura coastal highway and the north western coast of Java. Because of the short distance from the coast, the groundwater in Santing has a high level of salinity and cannot be used for irrigation.

At the peak of the rainy season the river overflows and floods the fields. This usually happens between January and February and last for about 4-7 days.

If the floods arrive when the rice grains are starting to swell or when they are ready for harvesting, the standing water will have a damaging effect on the plants. This is also the case if the seedlings are still very young (below one month).

According to Pak Rasim, rice plants which have not yet reached the stage when the rice grains swell - known as ngrapyak - can resist floods for one week. "As long as the water does not cover the buds", he says. You just have to add some fertilizer afterwards to improve their growth.

This requires perfect timing when planting the rice so that by the time the floods arrive, the plants are tall enough to survive but have not yet reached the swelling or ripening stage close to harvest.

The plants must be older than one month and still in the growing stage. "If the rice plants are already 60 cm high and the water level rises up to 40 cm, our plants are safe because they are tall and strong enough to resist the effects of the flood", explains Pak Rasim.

Because of these calculations, the farmers do not start sowing as soon as the first rains arrive. Instead, they wait until the third week of November or even the beginning of December.

By delaying the planting season they reduce the risk of losing their harvest to the floods. "The better we can predict when the peak of the rainy season will be, the better we can protect our crops from the floods", stresses Pak Rasim. The local farmers developed this strategy after floods repeatedly destroyed their crops during the mid 1990s.

However, it is not easy to estimate when the floods will arrive. If they had the choice, the farmers would prefer not to expose their crops to flooding at all.

Due to the delay in the first planting season, the second planting season also runs a little late. Usually it does not start before May. As a result, the farmers face a high risk of drought because the rainy season ends before the second harvest is completely ripe. Since 2000, more than half the rice plants have been lost because of this every year. But farmers say they will still continue planting a second crop of rice in future. If the river dries up and the rains stop too early, there will be nothing they can do but accept it.

Deceived by the "phoney rain" (Dominggus Tse, maize farmer in Nusa village, district of Timor Tengah Selatan (TTS), Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT) province)

Predictions about when it will rain based on the month and indicators in nature are not reliable any more. The rainy season which used to last from October to March now no longer arrives at all. This is the experience of Dominggus Tse and his family.

The farmers of Nusa village usually plant their maize at the very beginning of the rainy season. If the rains fail to continue and the soil dries up, the maize plants will grow stunted or even die.

On the other hand, if the maize is planted too late into the rainy season, the soil is too wet and the maize plants may also grow stunted. The maize crop will then be smaller than usual.

The maize farmers of NTT have come to call this phenomenon "the phoney rain". It rains a couple of times at the end of October and the farmers immediately plant their maize. But then it does not rain again for another 2-4 weeks. Because of this phoney rain the maize plants do not grow properly. Those who still have seeds, plant again once the rains finally set in regularly.

This erratic pattern at the beginning of the rainy season also causes other problems for their maize crop, including diseases such as brown leaf spot and stalk rot. It often means losing the whole harvest.

Another effect of the erratic seasons is the appearance of many more pests such as locust, rodents and different kinds of caterpillars. There are so called "army worms" and another species of caterpillar of unknown name in the area. In the past, these pests were very rare. "If they did appear, it was only in small numbers", explains Pak Dominggus.

The farmers in Nusa village mainly depend on the rain to grow their subsistence crops. They use the few wells they have solely for drinking water.

As a response to the changing seasons and the loss of their harvests most farmers now use intercropping. At the moment this seems to be working rather well. They have also built a small water reservoir to collect rain water so that they can use it to plant vegetables after planting the maize. They have to choose the kind of vegetables they want to plant very carefully, taking into account the amount of water available.

"... if we do not calculate very carefully when the real rainy season comes we risk losing our family's food supply", says Pak Dominggus.


The role of women in agriculture and adaptation

Women are worst hit

(Margaretha Heo, Nusa Tenggara Timur province)

Women shoulder the heaviest tasks of paddy agriculture in the province of Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT). In the area covered by the CSF study, about 95-100 per cent of the work of transplanting the seedlings and harvesting is done by women. The work is considered simple and not needing a lot of strength. Other tasks such as applying fertilisers and pesticides and measuring the dosage are considered to require more in-depth knowledge and are done by men.

However, the tasks of transplanting the seedlings and harvesting carried out by women require them being able to work under the heat of the sun. This work usually lasts the whole day - from morning until the evening - for several days in a row until it is finished.

Climate change has already forced the farmers in the island of Timor to plant other crops intercropped with vegetables instead of rice in the second planting season. (These crops are generally called palawija and may include different kinds of beans, maize, cassava etc.) These crops require daily maintenance work: they must be watered every day (this is usually done by women) and fertiliser or pesticides are applied every 2-3 days (this is usually done by men).

Planting other crops instead of rice obviously increases the amount of hours women have to work in the fields every day. Taking care of these other crops takes a lot more time than they used to spend in the fields. Traditionally in NTT, planting palawija is considered to be the task of women.

This is why the palawija used to be planted on plots near the house so that the women could tend to them while at the same time dealing with their other household tasks. Meanwhile, the men were responsible for the staple food crops such as rice and maize. Now, the change of crops introduced due to uncertainty about the weather has led to a shift in the roles and workload of women and men.


Adapting by using new seeds

Planting in saline fields

(Wasmad, 55, Pandansari hamlet, Kaliwlingi village, Brebes district, Central Java)

According to local people, until the 1980s, the hamlet of Pandansari in Kaliwlingi-Brebes village, used to be a fertile and prosperous area. But everything changed in 1983. Due to a storm wave, the area was heavily affected by abrasion and intrusion of sea water so that their land was no longer fit for farming any more.

"Sea water came into our paddy fields", explains Pak Wasmad, leader of the local farming group

For 4-7 years, the farmers in Pandansari could not harvest anything. Moreover, between 1991 and 2009 they have lost 800 ha of their land to abrasion.

"Only the plants along the sides grew and the ones in the centre died. Even when plants grew, usually the grains did not swell properly; there were spots inside the husk and sometimes they even turned black", says Pak Wasmad.

Now the distance between the coastline and the houses is about 200-500 metres, meaning that during the season when the westerly winds blow, half the families of Pandansari are hit by tidal surges. The sand bank they had hoped would resist the impact of the waves and abrasion seems to change position depending on the direction of the currents.

In order to save their livelihoods, last year the farmers of Pandansari, supported by IPPHTI (farmers' association for integrated pest management - Ikatan Petani Pengendalian Hama Terpadu Indonesia), started to plant rice varieties which can resist the effects of sea water. They tested five varieties and three managed to grow. During the last four planting seasons rice yields have reached 40 per cent of the normal level. During the next planting season they plan to sow 2 rice varieties on 2 ha of land.

The farmers in Pandansari have also learned that they must not use too much pesticide or fertiliser. Now they use environmentally friendly compost for their fields and have started to make it themselves.

Apart from trying to plant varieties of rice resistant to saline water, the local farming and fishing communities are also replanting mangroves.

"With support from various sources, we have planted mangroves along 6 km of coastline", explains Pak Mashadi, one of the active members of IPPHTI. This area still needs another 150,000 mangrove seedlings for planting.

The local people hope that in the future the government will show more interest in their situation; they hope the road to their village can be improved. Their small village has become very isolated after the road was damaged. They also want to build a channel for the Ponggol River in order to increase the amount of sedimentation and gain some additional land to compensate for the land lost to abrasion.


Small scale fishing and changing seasons

Erratic seasons and wind patterns

(Edy Hamdan, fisherman in Krui, West Lampung, Sumatra)

Fishermen using small boats in the coastal districts of West Lampung, East Lampung, and Bandar Lampung have observed that the beginning of the seasons of westerly and easterly winds no longer follows a regular pattern any more. Some fishermen have also come to the conclusion that the westerly wind season lasts longer now. This is the season when the small boats have fewer opportunities to set off and the catch is smallest.

Most fisherfolk agree that these changes started in 2000. Others say it was in 2002/2003. Yet others say it was after the tsunami hit Aceh in December 2004.

In West Lampung, East Lampung, and Bandar Lampung the westerly winds usually last from December to February. But since 2006/2007 they have tended to start late. Full westerly winds do not blow until January. According to the fishermen, the easterly wind season is becoming shorter. This reduces their changes to catch fish because they can only use their small boats on calm seas.

This change in the wind seasons does not affect the fishing communities in East Lampung so much. Their stretch of coast is protected and they can sail during any season. They just need to change their fishing tackle according to the season. Most fishermen in the area have rather large boats (1-3 GT) and use two or three different kinds of fishing tackle.


The difficulty of predicting the winds

"Even the old fishermen have given up now. They can no longer predict when the westerly and easterly wind seasons will start according to the position of the stars. Things used to follow a reliable pattern but now nothing is certain. For generations we have known when the westerly and easterly wind seasons would start based on the position of the Southern Cross. Now we think the weather will be good and suddenly stormy winds blow. If we make a mistake, we have to return early, meaning we have wasted our time and fuel."

Nurmal Halim, 52, tuna fisherman in Pesisir Selatan, West Lampung.




The Department of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries has actually started issuing a map of fishing potential every three days (formerly every two weeks). This information is sent to the local fishery service and also published on the department's website.

However, the information is of little use to fishermen with small boats. The map only shows the waters beyond 6 miles from the coastline and the small boats stay within a distance of 6 miles from the coast. Another limitation is that small-scale fishermen do not have GPS navigation devices, so they cannot interpret the position indicated as coordinates. The fishing maps only benefit the large-scale fishing boats equipped with the necessary navigation system.

External pressures on community resource management

Molo, East Nusa Tenggara

Across Indonesia, decades of debt-fuelled development, based on the exploitation and export of natural resources has sidelined local communities' efforts to live sustainably. The process has left the country's ecosystems weakened and less able to withstand the additional impacts of climate change.

Molo, the customary territory of the community living at the foot of Mount Mutis on the island the Timor, is one area where local people have resisted the commercial exploitation of natural resources because it conflicts with sustainable resource management by local people. Where commercial ventures have taken over resources, communities are left more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The people of Molo make a living primarily from agriculture - wet and dryland rice and other crops, keeping livestock and harvesting forest products. Previously, they practised rotational agriculture, but this is only continued by part of the community today due to limitations on the amount of land available. Grassland around the forest area is used for grazing livestock. A special feature of Molo is the giant karst rock formations: some of the rocks measure 4 by 5 metres thick and are 5 metres high.

Nature as the body
For the Molo, nature is like the human body, all parts of which must be in good health in order to function well. The giant rocks which form the highest mountain in the western part of Timor are central to the people's welfare, since they house the source of water for the Molo area. The water is used by the local water company to provide piped water for South Central Timor district and has also attracted a bottled water company - Aqua Fresh. Since 1999, when the water pipes were installed, around 500 hectares of wet rice fields and other land around the foot of Mount Mutus dried up as water was no longer available for the irrigation system. Similarly the hydroelectric dam has stopped working because the river dried up.

For the Molo people, water is like blood, bringing nourishment to the whole body. Without it, the person will become weak and die. If the water dries up, the local community can't grow food and without water there is no electricity.

Molo's forest is divided into areas kept as protection forest, which house sacred rocks, trees and sources of water, where no farming is permitted. Other areas are reserved for grazing livestock, collecting firewood, rope and other forest products.

The official zoning of Mt Mutis as a nature reserve has changed the way forests are managed, and the old systems for controlling fires has broken down.

According to Molo belief, land (the flesh of the body) must be protected or there will be misfortune. An official programme to 'regreen' or plant casuarina trees in areas classified by the government as 'critical land' is one such misfortune which has been affecting the local community since the 1980s. People were told they would own the trees once they were mature, and that while they were growing they would be able to plant crops between the young trees.

The project was popular at first and around 300 hectares were planted. After five years the land around the trees could no longer be used for crops and around the same time the government message changed: people could no longer decide what to do with their land, as it had now become "state land". People became angry, feeling they had been tricked: their grazing land had been reduced, they could no longer grow crops under the trees, and the water-thirsty trees did not bind the soil well, leading to frequent landslides. The anger spilled over into conflict in 2004.

This regreening effort and its negative impact on local people serves as a reminder that reforestation, whether in the name of climate change mitigation or not - risks damaging impacts, conflict and, ultimately, failure, if local people's interests aren't fully considered and if their rights to manage their own land and resources aren't respected.

The Molo rocks and mountains - the bones of the body - have great significance for the Molo people: they are linked to the very existence of the Molo communities. There are eight clans each linked to one rock outcrop. One of the biggest of these, called Naususu is considered the source of life for all other Molo rocks, or the source of life for the Molo people. Naususu is the root, whereas the other outcrops surrounding it are the trunk and branches of the tree. The roots support the rest of the tree and if cut, will cause the tree to collapse.

In the era of global warming, some of the changes are explained by the Molo belief system: changes in the weather have been experienced since mining started on Naususu and other large rock systems in 1998. The prospect of earning 10 million Rupiah per cubic metre of marble has attracted mining companies: the mountains contain hundreds of thousands of cubic metres. The Indonesian daily Kompas reported on 18 December 2003, that marble reserves on Flores and Timor islands amounted to around 3.5 million m3.

Without the community's knowledge, all their sacred mountains were included in a mining licence issued by the district head and governor. The mining company - PT Teja Sekawan - ignored local people's protests. In the end, the Molo people staged an action to recapture the mountains. Four large rock formations were reclaimed, including Naisusu. However one - Fatu Nualmolo - had already been mined out in 2001, and the remaining broken rocks left lying around. Another - Naitapan - continues to be mined: it is being broken up and cut into giant cubes and then sold.

The Molo people have noticed the impacts of mining these rocks: there have been increasingly serious landslides on the land around Naitapan and the cattle have been suffering from a disease, which was previously unknown in the area. Naitapan is a monument to failure, serving as a warning for the future. Molo must be saved!

From Krui to Timor - the full report is available in Indonesian or English from CSF, or DTE The authors are Devi Ratnaningayu & Raja Siregar and editor, Siti Maemunah. Giorgio Budi, Coordinator of the Civil Society Forum for Climate Justice (CSF) and Raja Siregar, Country Policy, Advocacy and Campaign Manager, Oxfam GB, wrote the introductory sections.