Sat, 05 Mar 2005

Farmers hope for 'Sleman of the lambs'

Sri Wahyuni, The Jakarta Post/Sleman, Yogyakarta

If you were to visit Sleman in the northern part of Yogyakarta province, you would probably see pens being erected on most farms, and wonder, what for?

"We are required to build pens before joining the dombanisasi (lamb) program. Its a prerequisite," the head of Mugi Rahayu farmer's group in Sompokan, Kasdi Budi Raharjo, 62, told The Jakarta Post.

He was referring to the scheme recently launched by the Sleman administration, through which 20,000 lambs will be distributed to poor farmers in the region this year via a rolling fund.

In Sompokan hamlet, about 10 kilometers southwest of the regental capital city of Sleman, four farmers are erecting pens.

"Actually, we could choose to breed any animal, not just sheep, but we believe that sheep suit our objectives," said Achmad Yulianto, head of the regency's agricultural and forestry office overseeing the project.

Quoting a number of surveys conducted in Sleman, Yulianto said that the quality of soil in the region was poor as its organic matter had dropped to one percent. Therefore, compost, and manure, which the lambs would provide, had been recommended.

Sheep manure, according to Yulianto, has for generations been used for agricultural purposes. But there were other reasons for choosing sheep over goats, for example.

"Goats' main food is leaves while sheep eat grass. As you can see for yourself, we have plenty of grass here." said Yulianto.

Sheep, according to Yulianto, are also easy to breed as they have a gestation period of 145 days, with three lambs often born at once.

It is hoped that the five-year program will increase the sheep population in the region from some 30,000 currently to over 800,000 within five years.

"By then we expect to have the same population of lambs as we do of people," Sleman Regent Ibnu Subiyanto said at the launch of the scheme last month.

Although the funds to buy the lambs are handed to individual farmers, to be eligible a farmer must belong to an accredited farmer's group.

Through the program, participating groups will receive a total of Rp 9 million each to be divided among its members. Recipients of the loans must buy five lambs, four of which must be ewes.

The groups are responsible for the repayment of the loans, which are given with an interest rate of six percent a year, or half of that offered by banks. Each recipient is given two years to pay back the loan in two installments to the agricultural and forestry office.

Upon paying back the first installment a year later, the group is given a month to submit another proposal. If their proposal is approved the funds are rolled to other members of the group for the same purpose.

"We currently have a total of some Rp 12 billion of funds in the community, which are rolled from one group to another, from one person to another," said Yulianto.

Introduced in 1998 with an initial fund of Rp 80 million from the regental government budget, according to Yulianto, the program has proved to be effective in helping farmers earn additional income for their families, particularly those grouped in the regency's farmer's groups, who number some 1,400 farmers at present.

"So, far, however, only 300 of them have submitted proposals for the dombanisasi program. We expect many more in the coming months," Yulianto said.

"I'm glad that four of our villagers here can enjoy the program. Although it does not give us an instant result, it does give us hope," Kasdi said.

He said, even if each of the four ewes gave birth to just one lamb, and they had to sell all of the initial five sheep to pay back the loan, they could still keep the lamb.

"See, after we have paid back the loan, we can continue to breed more sheep, and my guess is we'll need lots more pens," Kasdi said.





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