Everyday Inspiration: Mr. Heremba, a nutmeg farmer from Fakfak District, West Papua

Mr. Heremba

Mohammad Heremba is a charismatic and humorous farmer of Papuan Nutmeg (Myristica argentea). His village, Pang Wadar, is located one hour’s drive from the district capital in Fakfak District, which can be reached after seven hours of flying from Jakarta, the Indonesian capital. For generations, his family have lived from harvesting wild nutmeg. The nutmeg was probably planted by his great grandfathers and Mr. Heremba now reaps the benefits.

In 2016, the local non-government organization, AKAPe, together with Inobu, came to his village and helped him map his nutmeg forest garden. This was the first time in his life that he knew how much land he owns. “I now know that my land is 2.5 hectares. If people ask how I know it, I tell them that I mapped my land myself with AKAPe and Inobu” said Mr. Heremba with a proud smile. “All farmers were very excited and grateful that their lands were mapped for the first time. We now know not only the total area we own but also the number of trees within our nutmeg forest gardens — the number of trees and their different ages too!”

Mr. Heremba in his village


The two harvest seasons during the year are the times of the year which Mr. Heremba and his family look forward to. During the last harvest, Mr. Heremba gathered around ten people — seven adults and three children — to go with him to harvest his 2.5-hectare, nutmeg forest garden. It took him three days to harvest trees in his garden. Every day, he and his family came back to bring the nutmeg fruits and they sat around until night to separate the mace and the nut from the fruit. Mr. Heremba sold some of his harvest immediately and dried some for around 14 days, which can be considered as his savings for times of need.

Mapping nutmeg forest gardens


Just like other farmers, Mr. Heremba needs cash for harvest to pay for the meals, fuel to bring his family members to the forest garden and also compensate for the time of his family for helping him with the harvest. Farmers who do not have cash would usually borrow from a trader or a moneylender, so they need to sell the harvest immediately instead of drying the nutmeg, which has a higher value.

Mapping nutmeg forest gardens


In the coming harvest season, Mr. Heremba is keen to apply the lessons that he just learned. It was the first time that he heard about aflatoxin, a fungus that lives in dirt and can contaminate his nutmeg harvest. He and his newly formed farmer group in Pang Wadar village are determined to implement the correct harvesting technique to ensure the high quality of the product. Their hope is for better access to nutmeg markets.

Harvesting nutmeg


Just a few weeks ago, I had the privilege to meet with Mr. Heremba. Inobu facilitated a series of meetings between the farmer groups from Fakfak and potential buyers. It was the first time he heard that there are many different species of Indonesian nutmeg. The Papuan nutmeg, also known as Tomandin nutmeg, is considered lower quality than Banda nutmeg (Myristica fragrans) particularly because there is no particular standard for Tomandin nutmeg at the moment. The international standard for nutmeg and its derivatives refers to Banda nutmeg, hence Tomandin nutmeg can never meet that standard as it is actually a different species. We told him about Inobu’s effort to convince the Ministry of Agriculture to create a specific standard for Tomandin nutmeg so that his product will be more appreciated by the market.

The meeting with the buyers also reminded him of the lessons he learned during the training sessions back in the village about the grading process for nutmeg. He understands that buyers will pay based on the quality of the nutmeg product. He told us in the meeting that there was once an exporter in Fakfak supplying product directly to Singapore. What the exporter did was grading the nutmeg multiple times. At the time, he did not know why it was needed and no one has provided him with such information. Now he realizes the importance of grading his nutmeg.

I was amazed as I observed the interaction between the farmers and the buyers. I witnessed how the farmers were able to explain how they would change their practice to meet the buyers’ standards. They can clearly articulate what changes are required and what support is needed. They need to have a collective drying machine to ensure the consistent quality of the product. They also believe that selling the product as a group will increase their leverage in negotiating with a buyer, however, they will need financial support to pay for harvest and post-harvest processes so that they can benefit from the added-value of their harvests.

Mr. Heremba in the farmer-buyer discussion


I sat with Mr. Heremba shortly before he left Jakarta and asked him about his impression regarding our program in his village. “What is different?” He answered: “the process. You first came here to the village to map my land, you then came back to ask us questions about how I harvest and dry nutmeg, after that you came back to teach us how we should harvest our nutmeg to ensure good quality, and during the past few days, we met with the buyers and government about nutmeg markets and potential. They all suddenly made sense to me after the long process.”