“Always Walking” with Rural Communities

Yesterday was a highlight for me in my time working at LWR. I am currently in Sumatera, Indonesia, and was lucky enough to visit the LWR Clean Energy Project currently funded by the Osprey Foundation.

The project focuses on three key areas:

  1. supporting farmers with technical assistance for growing cocoa crops;
  2. building an energy efficient cocoa drying oven to decrease the processing time and increase the quality of cocoa produced; and
  3. revamping an old hydraulic power system running at a nearby river.

As this project is soon coming to an end, the visit was to get a sense of the impact of the activities, and discuss expansion of the project with the local partner and community.

The day started with an early morning pick up of Evi Kaban, LWR’s Program Manager in Indonesia.  Together we set out along the road headed towards the village of Laja.  Laja is an abbreviated translation meaning “always walking.”  I learned how truly apt this name was as we first drove the first hour on hard surface roads, then another hour over bumpy gravel and log-covered mud, eventually getting out and walking half an hour to get to a stream— which we waded across with shoes in hand — hiked up one more hill, and finally met up with some of the villagers who took us the rest of the way (about 1.5 miles) on their motorcycles.

The village of Laja has a population of 106 people living in 40 houses.  Each household had a farmer who participated in the project. LWR and its local partner created a cocoa field school for training sessions on subjects like proper pruning, grafting, developing organic fertilizer and pesticides, and recognizing disease and fungi.  We constructed a drying oven for communal use, so that farmers no longer need to lay their cocoa on mats under the sun, a process that used to take 4 days. Now, with the oven it takes 9 hours, or less.  The oven not only saves processing time, it also helps increase the farmers’ efficiency and labor time.  One of the farmers, Nande Grace, told me, “I used to have to look after the cocoa while it sat under the sun, but now I put it in the oven and can go back to the fields for the day.”

The 15-kilowatt micro-hydro power unit that replaced the older unit (laying behind it). This unit not only provides enough power for cocoa drying, but also powers villagers' homes.

The improvement of the cocoa-drying oven would not have been possible without the additional support of modernizing the micro-hydro power unit by the river.  The original unit was built in 1980, and had a capacity of 8 kilowatts.  For this project, LWR helped build a taller channel to re-direct the water to the micro-hydro unit,  increasing water flow.  By adding a new micro-hydro generator, the capacity is now 15 kilowatts, enough to not only power the cocoa-drying unit, but to provide electricity for the villagers’ homes.

Given the successes of the current project, LWR is considering scaling up this type of project with other villages.  Therefore, after concluding our visit in Laja, we traveled to three other villages in the same area to view potential new project sites.  After visiting, we met back at the local partner’s office to discuss these possibilities, determining the next steps in working on a new project proposal together.  As LWR does not have a guaranteed donor for this project, we explained to the local partner that a new proposal may or may not get funded.  This reality is one they understood well.  For the remainder of our visit, we shared some tools and techniques on defining the project goal, and how to frame the background and problems from the community perspective, bringing in lessons learned from the previous project. I’m looking forward to seeing the new proposal as it goes through development. It’s definitely a project that is having a positive impact on the community!

Learn more about LWR’s work in Indonesia and help support projects like this by donating to LWR.