This post is co-authored by Akhmad Anshari
Usman Siraje is very different from other cocoa farmers we’ve met in Indonesia.
In 1970, Usman started his first business, a clothes workshop, which supported his family until 1984. After 14 years, as the business went bad, Usman closed the workshop and bought 3Ha land at Buntu Batu Village in Luwu District, and started his new career as a cocoa farmer. As he said, you need to work hard and work smart in running your cocoa farm. He sure did it. After 20 years, he managed to expand his farm to 15Ha.
Although he hires seven farmers to work for him, he still spends a lot of time in the farm every day. Usman said, “Sometimes I go and check if they are doing things right. But most of the time I just walk around and think about how to make it better.”
There was a time that Usman was worried about the usage of pesticide, which is a critical input for a tree’s health, but he was worried about something else. “We know nothing about pesticide, and we just use whatever we can get from the market, and spray it on all our trees,” Usman told us. “I guess this is not good for the farmers’ health, and we are also wasting a lot of pesticide as well, which is quite expensive.”
Usman was searching for an answer until 2010, when he participated the farmer group training, and met Mars Chocolate Indonesia associate Pak Saifuddin, who is from the certification team. At that time, Pak Saifuddin and his teammates were promoting the benefits of cocoa certification and delivering trainings from village to village.
Usman never heard about certification, but the word “pesticide management” caught his attention. As he continued to listen, he heard about “program premium” and “productivity package.” Usman knew he came to the right place. “I have been learning cocoa farming from family and friends, and I never have a chance to learn it systematically…and now here comes my chance.”
Pesticide management is only a small part of the certification program. Joining the farmer certification group, Usman learned about water conservation, integrated farming, productivity, etc. He attended all the group trainings and was always the one who came with most of the questions. So sometimes he invited trainers to his farm for one on one support. Later Usman was referred to a local Cocoa Village Center, where he could learn the full package of cocoa rehabilitation.
Usman did the first trial on 1.5Ha of his farm, where he practiced pruning, side grafting, planting shade trees, etc. The farm paid back in less than one year, and it encouraged him to fully rehabilitate his whole farm. Now, he is enjoying a yield of 2 t/Ha, which used to be 500kg/Ha.
Usman has a big family, including 11 children. As a smart business man, Usman has a good plan for this increased income. He sent 4 children to college in Makassar, and saved some money as health funding for the family. “I am planning to buy more cocoa farm, because I want to give the farm to my children,” Usman said, “Cocoa is a good business, and I learned its secret. My children won’t be cocoa farmers but the farm will give them good income in the future.”
In addition to covering family expense, the farm also has another special meaning to Usman. A pilgrimage to Mecca is required of every Muslim, but not every farmer in Indonesia can afford it. In 1998, with the income from his cocoa farm, Usman did his pilgrimage to Mecca for the first time. Now with an increased income, he is planning for second pilgrimage with his family.
Usman’s success stands out among other farmers in the farmer group. When asked what is his secret to success, Usman smiled, “I guess I asked more questions comparing with them. Sometimes they have the same questions but just too shy to ask. The certification program gives me such a great opportunity to learn about cocoa, and it is only through asking questions we can learn the most.”