Kopernik Partners with HAkA to Explore Sustainable Livelihood Alternatives in Lesten Village

Kopernik has partnered with HAkA (Forest, Nature and Environment of Aceh/ Yayasan Hutan, Alam dan Lingkungan Aceh) — an organization that strives for an empowered, stronger, and healthier Aceh through environment-focused programs. Through the partnership, Kopernik conducted a study to identify potential interventions in Lesten Village, Aceh, that can provide direct and sustainable economic benefit to the local community whilst ensuring forest land continues to be protected.

Situated between Central Aceh and a production forest, Lesten Village is the most isolated village in Pining District, Gayo Lues Regency, Aceh. With high rainfall intensity and fertile soil, the village is ideal for agriculture and cultivation. The main livelihood of the 235 inhabitants of Lesten Village comes from farming — cultivating multiple crops such as corn, betelnut, and ginger — and cacao as the main commodity, followed by the utilization of Non-Timber Forest Products (NTFP). As Lesten Village directly borders the forest, the community has an important role in preserving the flora and fauna located within the protected forest area, which is home to endemic wildlife such as Sumatran elephants and Sumatran orangutan.

Entering Lesten Village, one of the most isolated village in Gayo Lues Regency, Aceh.

The current farming practices in Lesten Village are not optimal or sustainable. The lack of information technology infrastructure and its limited road access has slowed the community in getting assistance from government institutions or other organizations on good agricultural practices, market access, and information on prices — leaving farmers without access to this information. Farmers apply agricultural practices that have been passed down through generations which result in minimum yields during harvest. The farmers at Lesten Village also tend to switch commodities quickly, following trends of successful harvests of new commodities in their neighboring villages. These practices result in the increased clearing of forest for agricultural land.

Forest area clearing for agricultural land is a common sight in Lesten Village

To identify the most suitable and sustainable livelihood alternatives, together with HAkA, Kopernik conducted an unmet needs assessment in Lesten Village in December 2020. The research comprised of in-depth interviews with villagers and other stakeholders as the main source of data collection, as well as observation of the villagers’ day-to-day activities.

Through the assessment, Kopernik formulated several recommendations to be applied for the sustainable livelihood of communities in Lesten Village. Some of the key recommendations focus on the intensification of agroforestry intercropping and the improvement of the cacao value chain.

Cacao is the main commodity in the village. Based on research conducted by Kopernik, it is recommended that the value chain of cacao is improved in Lesten Village to increase its market value. 

Scheduled intercropping of various commodities such as cacao, areca, corn, and aromatic ginger would allow farmers to have almost all year round harvests of various commodities, thus providing them with more stable incomes — all in the existing farmland without having to clear new forest area. With cacao as one of the main commodities in Lesten Village, it is important to improve its value chain, enabling farmers to have access to higher market value and have a stronger bargaining position in the market. To achieve this, interventions in all stages of the value chain are needed. From pre-harvest (i.e. providing agriculture training by the local agricultural department), processing (i.e. establishing a business unit to process cacao beans by local government or BUMDes), to connecting farmers with buyers who are willing to buy high-quality beans.

Through this unmet needs assessment, Kopernik, together with HAkA, plans to provide a reference for development actors in improving the livelihoods of people in Lesten village.