Extra support for West Sulawesi farmer health program

An AIC project that trains volunteers to monitor and report outbreaks of disease in villages, and promote better agricultural practice, has been expanded using left over funds. It will now also provide ongoing monitoring and support for the program’s village-based volunteers.

The Village Livelihood Program in West Sulawesi has two aims: to improve health security, or in other words, enable communities to minimise the occurrence of disease through improving general health practices and establishing an early warning system; and improve knowledge of cocoa farming practices to increase crop health and productivity. The extra support will allow more accurate evaluation of the pilot program, providing monthly village visits from researchers, who will check in on volunteers, village leaders and others.

Voluntary help by villagers at government health posts is a long tradition in Indonesia, with tasks including helping with immunisation programs for infants and taking weight and height data. This program has built on this tradition by training selected volunteers in both health and agricultural skills.

This ‘One Health’ approach, where health and agricultural education are integrated to empower rural communities, came about after an earlier AIC study that looked at the sustainability and productivity of cocoa farming, and uncovered a link between farmer health and crop productivity.

A volunteer in one of her weekly activities talking to parents in Duampanua village, West Sulawesi, one of the four villages involved in this pilot project. (Credit: Peter McMahon/AIC)

The model researchers are piloting trains volunteers in the underpinning science behind health and diseases, as well as good agricultural practice, and also introduces them to existing government health and agricultural services. This element has the potential to improve access to these services for many, and also improve the skills of local government personnel, making them more responsive to the needs of villagers.

Volunteer training (Credit: AIC). Top photo: The project team (left-right): Sudirman Nasir (UnHas), Pak Rauf (agricultural trainer), David Guest (USyd), Merrilyn Walton (USyd), Peter McMahon (USyd), Burhanuddin (agricultural trainer), Tenri Karaweng (UnHas). Front: (l-r, all UnHas) Jumriani Ansar, Devintha Virani, Sarina Alimuddin, Arman Abbas. (Credit: AIC))

The current program, like the earlier study, is being led by Professor Merrilyn Walton and Professor David Guest from The University of Sydney and Dr Sudirman Nasir from Universitas Hasanuddin in South Sulawesi.

In the original study in 2017, in partnership with Professor Nunung Nuryartono from Institut Pertanian Bogor, in West Java, researchers collected data from 120 cocoa farmers in West Sulawesi with the aim of identifying health and agricultural problems, and the relationships between them.

The study uncovered multiple health factors affecting livelihoods, including a lack of knowledge and skills around disease prevention, as well as critically low farm productivity – the main source of income for these communities.

Volunteers receive training on use of the new mobile apps. (Credit: Peter McMahon/AIC)

As well as covering more monitoring by researchers, the extra funding will also allow: mobile application support for volunteers; the purchase of more resources, such as health manuals; more comprehensive publication of outcomes; a workshop to showcase the project and seek more funding; and more.

What’s next?

The empowerment program is currently in a six-month experimental phase, having commenced in mid-March 2019. The result, it is hoped, will be a curriculum that is practical and applicable to the concerns of the villages, as well as volunteers with new knowledge and skills that are accepted and listened to in their villages.

With more funds in the future, researchers hope to implement the program across the entire region of Sulawesi.


Read post program update: Close evaluation aims to extend farmer health program, sprout more like it

Read about the preceding study: ‘Sustainability and profitability of cocoa-based farming in Sulawesi’