Dozens of catfish flopped around in a net, splashing water in every direction as Ramlah, 37, gripped the net’s handle above a fishing pond made of tarp at Pelintung village, Dumai, Riau, recently.
“We raised them for nine months and this is our first harvest. There are around 1,000 catfish in this pond, and we have five ponds,” Ramlah told The Jakarta Post as she pointed at other fish ponds lined up in her backyard.
Ramlah is the head of Perempuan Bunga Desa, a group consisting of 20 women from Pelintung village in Medang Kampai district, which manages the ponds. Like most of her group members, she is a homemaker and her husband works at an oil palm plantation.
Medang Kampai was among the areas in Riau that suffered the most during the nation’s worst forest fire in 2015, as one third of the district was transformed into an oil palm plantation.
The fire, which lasted more than two months, sent vast plumes of smoke into the air, not only across the island of Sumatra, but also across neighboring countries including Malaysia, Singapore, southern Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. Evidence indicated that most hot spots were related to oil palm and pulpwood plantations.
Funded by the United Kingdom Climate Change Unit (UKCCU), the Indonesia Climate Change Trust Fund (ICCTF), a trust fund organization under the National Development Planning Board (Bappenas), initiated a program for 80 women in Dumai to improve their livelihoods by growing red ginger and raising catfish on the peatland in their backyards.
They have also learned to process the goods into food, such as catfish into fish balls and sausages, and ginger into candy and drinks, to gain more profit when selling it in markets.
“We want to encourage Riau women who live around peatland to do more than just stay at home or help their husbands on oil palm plantations. We want to show them that they also can improve their financial condition from their front yard, without leaving their domestic responsibilities,” said Sri Wahyuni, the director of the Riau Working Women Group (RWWG).
The women, including Ramlah, are residents of four villages, namely Belintung, Buntung, Makmur and Mundam, in Medang Kampai district. Currently, there are four women’s groups across Medang Kampai, and each manages five catfish ponds and around a quarter hectare of red ginger farmland.
The RWWG have assisted the women over the past 13 months in learning about raising catfish using an innovative and cost-effective technology called Biofloc, which can be used in relatively small areas. They claimed that the technique could produce healthier and tastier fish since they made their own fish pellets using organic plant residue from around the house. With the technology, they can build a pond using tarp. It also allows them to take care of and financially contribute to their respective households.
ICCTF executive director Tonny Wagey said they had given around Rp 2 billion (US$139,655) to the RWWG for the women’s empowerment program. They hope that the local administration will follow up on the programs, thus enabling more women to improve their livelihoods by managing peatland and playing a bigger role in anticipating the impact of climate change.
While the importance of the role of women in climate change is often discussed, implementation of programs that engage women remains limited, said Medrilzam, the head of the environment directorate at Bappenas.
It is concerning, he said, because women and their children usually bear the brunt of environmental disasters. For example, many women get sick from breathing smoke during severe haze, but they also have to take care of their sick children.
Children and pregnant women are among the most vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution. A child’s respiratory tract can easily absorb toxic particles emitted from burning wood.