Sustainable Agriculture

Organic Vegetable Farming for Nutrition and Eventual Income from Sales

The mountain land in Desa Ban is so steep, dry and sandy that it can only support cassava and corn, the staple for the majority of the 2,500 families who have almost no alternative source of food supplies apart from a remote market that is up to 5 hours walk on steep mountain tracks. Following our philosophy of teaching the people how to feed themselves for life rather than giving them free food for a day, we introduced organic vegetable learning gardens near all schools as an integral part of the children’s education programmes. First, vetiver grass (vetiveria zizanioides) is planted to conserve soil and water and initiate natural terraces. Vetiver roots can penetrate 2-3 metres below ground in their first year and act almost like an underground dam to store water, making it available to plants over a longer period. The terraced planting beds are then improved with organic compost and cow manure. Organic worm farms provide the natural organic fertilisers needed to nourish the soil directly before planting potato and vegetable seedlings. No chemical fertilisers or pesticides are ever used.

We piloted our first organic school learning gardens in December 1999 and March 2001, kindly funded by the British Women’s Association (BWA) of Jakarta. In the first season, we successfully grew 20 types of nutritious vegetables: a welcome addition to the children’s daily school meals. The gardens have introduced a whole new range of nutritious food to the children and their families who previously knew only cassava, corn and pigeon peas. Now there are organic school gardens in all EBPP schools. Apart from the direct result of providing good food for the community, this project has significantly improved the local environment.

Children in all EBPP schools go to their organic vegetable gardens daily as part of their integrated education, theory coming after practice! They learn how to improve the soil with cow manure which they bring from home, monitor the condition and progress of the worm farms for premium organic fertilizer (certified worms purchased from worm farm specialist, Dr Kartini in Denpasar), prepare seed beds for nurturing until planting time, check for insects/pests and record progress daily. All activities are overseen by EBPP’s education, agriculture and health teams, with regular input from Indonesian and foreign volunteer advisors. Children take all reports home to explain the processes and progress to their parents who are keen to study with them. By late 2002, parents in all hamlets asked to learn how to improve their family land on condition their children in EBPP schools taught them. This request formed the foundation for the now successful community learning gardens, initiated in November 2002 with a 3-year grant from British Embassy Small Grants Scheme.

Potatoes, carrots, tomatoes and many green vegetables are now the vegetables of choice for future economic development by all farmers. Why? Because they know through their children that their present staple of cassava (a goitrogen) contributes to iodine deficiency by blocking iodine absorption – the essential mineral for healthy brain and body development, that the nutrition content of potatoes far exceeds that of cassava, and that there is a good market for future sales in Bali and beyond.