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Caritas Asia commits to develop sustainable agriculture

Organic methods is only practical and ecologically friendly way for farmers to boost yields, Indonesian conference told

Caritas Asia commits to develop sustainable agriculture

Caritas representatives from several Asian countries observe organic fertilizer being made by farmers in Ruteng Diocese, Indonesia, as part of a May 8-11 conference. (Photo supplied) 

Caritas Asia has resolved to develop sustainable agriculture, and revive food sovereignty with the aim to boost the income of farming communities.

The church's social action arm made the commitment at a May 8-11 conference held in Ruteng Diocese in Indonesia's East Nusa Tenggara province.

The diocese has about 791,200 Catholics, more than half of whom are farmers.

Representatives from 13 Asian countries, that included India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Philippines, Kazakhstan and Timor Leste, attended the conference.

Donor agencies, local government officials, students, and activists, also attended.

Father Yuvens Rugi, director of Caritas Ruteng, said participants discussed the development of sustainable agriculture through organic farming, which has been adopted in pilot projects in Cambodia and Indonesia.

"Participants agreed that using natural fertilizer can address productivity and environmental problems facing many farming communities," he said.

In many countries, chemical fertilizers that have been used for decades have damaged the environment, damaging land fertility, which in turn has reduced yields.

In the last three years, Ruteng Diocese has trained farmers in organic fertilizer production, through the establishment of 16 assisted groups in villages.

The church, he said, helps these groups find affordable ways to overcome the problem of reduced soil fertility.

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"They now realize they have to change common farming methods and turn to organic farming," Father Rugi said.

He said Caritas develops a holistic approach to farmers, providing not just improved skills but also spiritual assistance through catechesis.

Conference attendees had the chance to visit two farmer groups assisted by the diocese, where farmers showed them how to make organic fertilizer.

Chintan Manandhar, from Nepal, said he was impressed with what was being done in Ruteng Diocese and was keen to apply the same principles back home.

"I will return and share these things with Nepalese farmers," he said.

Father Marthen Chen, director of Ruteng Diocese's Pastoral Center said efforts to promote sustainable farming can work if there is synergy with other parties, including government.

He said it is the responsibility of all — the government and religious institutions — to elevate the lives of farmers.

Kamelus Deno, the head of Manggarai district — one of three districts in Ruteng Diocese — said sustainable farming is one of the ways to improving a farmer's quality of life.

He said, 63 percent of the total workforce of 137,440 in his district work in the agriculture sector and has been trapped in poverty for years.

"Since last year we started organic farming involving 12 groups of about 400 people, with a total land area of 50 hectares," he said.

The results have been very promising.

"In one year, production reached 320,000 kilograms, with mainly fruit and vegetables," Deno said. 

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