JUST over three years ago, Herniati had never heard of tortilla chips, let alone tasted them. Now she loves them – making the crispy snacks has turned her from a housewife reliant on her husband’s unstable income into the main breadwinner.
The family of four used to live on less than US$8 a day, mostly from selling fish her husband caught. Herniati, who goes by one name, said their income had quadrupled since she began working, thanks to a project to improve local livelihoods.
“My income is now higher than my husband’s. He’s happy and proud of me,” said the 35-year-old, giggling.
“With the money, I first pay school fees for my children. Then we buy electronic devices.”
Lombok, a beautiful, rugged island in eastern Indonesia, has long been overshadowed by its neighbour Bali. Located in West Nusa Tenggara, one of Indonesia’s poorest provinces, Lombok is less developed, arid and prone to drought.
A sudden boom in its tourism industry has raised hopes poverty can be reduced, but some locals instead fear a jump in inequality.
Coastal villages are particularly vulnerable, experts say, because they have limited access to markets, the natural resources they rely on become degraded over time, and they depend on a single source of income, usually fishing.
Climate change impacts such as sea-level rise and more intense droughts and storms, combined with coastal erosion, could exacerbate these problems.
In Herniati’s fishing village of Lembar Selatan in West Lombok, under an hour’s drive from some of the island’s most popular beaches, many families live below the national poverty line of around US$27 per month.
But the villagers say their prospects have improved thanks to the Coastal Community Development Project (CCDP), run by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and Indonesia’s Marine Affairs and Fisheries Ministry
Funded by the Spanish, United States and Indonesian governments, it covers nine provinces in eastern Indonesia, a region that has historically suffered from low levels of development.
The CCDP supports rehabilitation of natural resources such as reefs and mangroves, provides fishing equipment to men and trains fishermen’s wives to become entrepreneurs, linking them with companies to sell their products. The villagers contribute manpower and re-invest profits into their communities.
Saving for the first time
“You can see there are many new buildings. It means they now have extra money,” said Sapta Putra Ginting, national CCDP coordinator with the Marine Affairs Ministry, pointing at brick houses with fresh coats of paint.
“Previously, when the husbands could not work, they had to borrow money at 100-percent interest rates. That’s how our fishing communities stayed deep in poverty,” he said.
About a third of the village benefits from the project, serving as a model for others who want to diversify their incomes through environmental protection and market access, Sapta said.
Local fisherman H. Nurudin said he had a personal savings account for the first time, in which he has tucked away IDR7 million (US$525.50).
A group of fishermen supported by the project has saved IDR18 million, he said, using the money to repair boats and organise local events.
Sahdan, another villager in Lembar Selatan, has also seen his fortunes change for the better.
The 67-year-old has been a fisherman for as long as he can remember. For the past few years, however, he has been busy managing the village’s 64ha (158-acre) mangrove conservation area.
Once a place with fast-deteriorating mangrove trees, it is now a popular attraction after new trees were planted with CCDP money. Shops, cafes and a housing project have sprung up nearby.
A walkway has been built among the mangroves, and revenues from entry fees, boat hire and hosting weddings are so good that Sahdan now fishes only occasionally, though catches are higher.
“Before the mangroves were planted we used to get 2kg (4.4 lb) of fish a day. Now we get five or six kilos,” he said, standing in a wooden gazebo as youths paddled kayaks in the water below. Scores of people visit every weekend, he said.
The mangrove park is doing so well Sahdan worries it could become a victim of its own success. Land prices in the area have soared from IDR2 million to 10 million per hectare, he said.
The CCDP ends in December, but local authorities and villagers plan to continue its work. National coordinator Sapta said one strategy was to work with big companies like Indonesia’s state energy firm Pertamina, which had shown interest.
Another is to incorporate CCDP activities into village planning and budgeting, IFAD programme officer for Asia-Pacific Sarah Hessel said. Under the 2014 Village Law, the national government aims to disburse up to US$8.6 billion annually – over US$100,000 for every village – for infrastructure and economic development until 2019, she said.
For Herniati and other fishermen’s wives, there is no question of stopping what they are doing. They remember enduring years of stress over money and the safety of their husbands.
“The women worry every single day while the husbands are out fishing.”
“We worry the boats will sink in bad weather, that they cannot get fish when there are big waves.”
The women now make tortilla chips and crackers, adding Lombok’s special ingredient – seaweed – to the recipe, as well as more traditional Indonesian fare such as shrimp paste.
The products are then packaged and sent to Gerung, the capital of West Lombok Regency, where they are sold by a local business specializing in snacks and drinks including seaweed coffee.
“Before, I just waited for my husband to come back and sell fresh fish at the market,” said Herniati outside the one-storey building where the women work, built recently with their profits. “Now we can sell value-added products. This has helped increase our family income.” – Reuters