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From the Paris Agreement to farmlands: connecting the dots

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

By Titis Apdini

Lembang district in West Java, Indonesia. Known as the center of horticulture and milk production.

The feeling of euphoria enveloped Paris in December 2015. A high-level meeting was wrapped up by an agreement of 191 parties to avert catastrophic events due to global temperature rising. All nations or "Parties" pledged to limit global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Each country submitted an intended Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) to reduce carbon emissions in various sectors such as energy, transportation, industry, and agriculture. Research is driven to identify potential strategies in carbon reduction. Activists vastly carry on campaigns and raise awareness to act upon the issue of climate change.

Five years after Paris Agreement, the trend of carbon emissions is still ascending. Why do we move sluggishly toward the lifesaving target of decarbonization?

As an animal scientist, I will not discuss how the international agreement is adopted into national policy. But since my research is related to cattle's environmental impact, I cannot be apathetic toward environmental policy, particularly in agriculture. Let's have a look at NDC from the Republic of Indonesia, of which the government pledged to reduce 29% of carbon emissions by 2030. The National Development Planning Agency developed the detailed action plan. Specifically, for agriculture, an integrated system of cattle-crop was promoted to use manure as organic fertilizer. The government of Indonesia submitted this NDC in 2015. Three years later, I started fieldwork on smallholder dairy farms in Lembang district, West Java, Indonesia. The district is known as the center of horticulture and milk production that supplies food all over Indonesia. Although vegetable plots are at the next door of dairy farms, yet the manure flow from cattle to crop hardly appears.

A massive gap between action plans by the government and implementation by the farmers is a reality. I observed first -hand the lack of top-down policy coordination. On the farm per se, several challenges related to the socio-economic aspect are the reason behind the segregated cattle and crop system. Because of the density, farmland is fragmented into many smallholder farms that occupy less than one hectare of land. This commonly happens in Java, the most populated island in Indonesia. Therefore, an integrated system requires consensus that must be achieved mutually. Albeit communal culture that is perceived sturdily in Indonesia, personal interest and capacity might hamper the realization of what the community has agreed upon. Unsurprisingly, the individual motives such as relationships among farmers and labor availability to initiate integrated systems come to the table.

While I move forward with the research agenda, I was selected as one of the mentees by Women Leaders for Planetary Health. The observation during fieldwork triggers my curiosity to learn how to close the gap between stakeholders in policy development and or implementation. The beauty of this opportunity was learning more about how I could improve my research methods. I discussed community inclusion in the decision-making process with my mentor, Dr. Nicole Redvers, who has diverse experience in the indigenous health arena.

My Time with my Mentor

During the three months of the mentorship program, we had fruitful sessions about community-based participatory research (CBPR). Dr. Redvers has been conducting CBPR to improve the healthcare system within indigenous communities. Instead of formulating the questions with the research team, she engages with the community to identify the real problems, determine the objective, design the research, and present the results. The CBPR approach counters the helicopter view which assumes adequate knowledge of outsiders about solutions for problems that a community deal with. She witnesses a significant societal impact because CBPR changes the community's role from object to subject of an initiative. Consequently, the community recognizes the benefits of research and has a more substantial commitment to implementing the findings.

The key of CBPR, I learned, is knowledge transfer and inclusion. These two values are not merely to conduct research but also relevant in policymaking. The community must take part in policy development. A fruitful dialogue is essential to achieve mutual understanding and ultimately, a common objective. This process requires leadership that ensures the inclusion of all community members. Scientists could do more to engage local communities. The Paris Agreement, in hindsight, is an example of successful leadership in the inclusion of all parties that generated voluntary contributions. I will certainly engage local communities y in my the future research agenda, do my part, and I invite you to do the same.

About the author: Titis Apdini is a PhD candidate at the Animal Production Systems (APS) group, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, and a mentee at the Women Leaders for Planetary Health (2020)

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