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Applications for extension from research into farmer decision making on new cropping lands in East Lombok, Indonesia

Taslim Sjah1, Donald Cameron1, Keith Woodford2

1School of NRSM, University of Queensland Gatton
Lincoln University, Christchurch New Zealand


This research analyses farming systems management on ‘new’ cropping lands in East Lombok, Indonesia. The study was stimulated by apparently low productivity of the new lands, and was designed to provide insights into farmer decision making in critical domains including resource allocation, crop choice and marketing. Research was conducted using semi-structured interviews with 41 farmer respondents from four villages, where new cropping lands had been developed. A methodology employing the ‘elimination by aspects’ techniques described by Gladwin (1980) was used to elicit relevant decision information, and was found to be efficient in both describing past decisions and predicting future decisions under different scenarios.

Farmers in their production decisions considered a number of aspects (attributes) of crops. Family food security was the dominant crop choice criterion for most farmers, and commercial profitability only became relevant once this was satisfied. Thus rice was almost universally grown in the first planting season, followed by various market crops in the second and third planting seasons. The major constraints perceived by farmers were the limited availability of capital and irrigation water. In the second and third planting seasons, farmland was allocated for secondary crops typically in the same way as the previous year. If changes did occur, aspects relevant to choice of a particular crop included water and capital availability, the farmer’s knowledge of the crop’s agronomic requirements, labor supply at critical husbandry times, market demand, and suitability for family consumption. If after this process there were still some choices available then crops were considered on the trade-off between profit and risk. In relation to risk, most farmers were risk-avoiders, a result of previous experience of lack of capital and crop failures.


The Government of Indonesia has had a policy in place that places strong emphasis on food security, particularly by increasing rice production, which is expected in turn to improve farmers’ welfare (Booth 1988; Piggot et al. 1993). One of strategies implemented to increase the agricultural production has been land extensification, i.e. to develop new cropping lands that are suitable for rice production at least once a year (out of three planting seasons within a year). Nearly 8000 ha new cropping lands were developed between 1979/1980 and 1995/1996 in Lombok Island, in Eastern Indonesia, and further significant land development is planned. Most of this land development has occurred in East Lombok (DPTP WNT 1995).

The policy of increasing agricultural production and farmers’ income has been supported by many other efforts including provision of extension services to producers. Extension workers are expected to help farmers in dealing with both technical and market knowledge and information. However, it seems that extension workers have lacked contact with farmers on the new cropping lands, but it is unclear whether this is because the extensionists could not cover the area well or that their services are not perceived as relevant to farmers’ needs.

This paper describes aspects of a study into the farming systems of East Lombok that was designed to provide deeper understanding of apparent low productivity and profitabilty of ‘new’ cropping lands. It will set out (i) brief details of how the extension system works in the region, (ii) brief details of the farming population surveyed, and (iii) depict models of farmer crop-choice decision making, that have utility both as descriptive and predictive devices, that were developed during the research process. These models are then used to (iv) help explain why farmers make little use of extension services in making such decisions, and finally to (v) examine the lessons that can be learnt from this finding.


This study applied the survey method (Babbbie 1990; Mosher & Kalton, 1985), and was conducted on new cropping lands in East Lombok. Four villages were selected that would provide variety in geographical features and land development timeframes. The villages include Mamben Lauq and Karang Baru (in Aikmel District), Sambalia (in Sambalia District), and Pringgasela (in Masbagik District). A sub village was chosen within each village based on information provided by the village leader on where new cropping lands have been developed in the selected years. There was a total of 41 farmer respondents. Data were collected in October to December 1996, through in-depth semi-structured interviews with those 41 farmers. Supplementary information was obtained from interviewing 27 key informants, as well as from secondary sources.

Agricultural climate

The climate in East Lombok is tropical with two distinct seasons, namely the wet season and the dry season. The wet season starts in November and ends in March (Table 1). Rainfall is geographically directly linked to altitude. Maximum daily temperatures range from 25-34oC and minimum temperature ranges from 13-26oC (Data were supplied by the Office of Protection for Food Crop and Horticulture of Region VII, 1996). Climatic conditions strongly affect agricultural production systems practised by farmers in the region. The relevance of this is apparent in the section on Decision Making.

Table 1. Average monthly distribution of rainfall in East Lombok 1975-1994














































Source: DPTP East Lombok (1995)

Farmer profiles

In all cases the farmer respondents were males, reflecting that this is a traditional Muslim society where men take responsibility for farm decisions. Respondent age ranged from 29 to 88 years, with a mean of 51. More than one third of the farmers were older than 60 years. The average farming experience was 34 years. The average education was 4.4 years, ranging from 0 to 12 years. Only 15% had completed senior high school (12 years) and 44% had received no formal schooling. The hypothesis that older were more poorly educated than younger farmers was tested with a regression model of years of education as a function of age. The relationship was confirmed (coefficient of –0.12, r2 = 0.13, p=0.02).

All farmers possessed new land as private property (as a consequence of sample selection). Three were also cultivating land of other status. These alternative systems of land occupation included rental for a fixed sum, crop sharing, and the gadai system whereby a farmer borrows money and the lender acquires cultivation rights to a parcel of land until the loan is repaid. Seven farmers also had ‘old’ land (cropped prior to implementation of extensification policies) and 15 farmers had other types including undeveloped land, garden and shifting cultivation land.

The average area of new land was 1.03 ha but with considerable variation both between farms (0.225 – 5.0 ha) and between the villages (0.52 – 1.52 ha). For the seven farmers who owned old cropping land, the average area was 0.34 ha. The average area of all lands (new, old and other lands) was 1.3 ha.

Most farmers (63 %) owned live stock of some type, with 56 % owning cattle, 37 % poultry, 7 % goats and 5% horses. Cattle are regarded as particularly valuable and serve several purposes including draught power, as a source of income, and a form of saving in a society where bank accounts are unusual. Herds averaged 2.4 head (range 1-9) in size and ranged in estimated value from Rp 150,000 to Rp 12,000,000.

No farmers use any form of mechanisation on their farms. The busy periods of the year are at planting (especially for wetland rice) and harvesting. At these times farmers rely on casual non-family labour, which is readily available. At other times of the year permanent family labour is often underemployed.

Agricultural extension systems

Throughout rural Indonesia the agricultural extension system is administered by the Government. Its purpose is to transfer new technology from research stations to farmers. It is typically based on the training and visit systems whereby extension workers are trained in new technologies, and they then visit farmers and train them (Benor, Harrison & Baxter, 1984). On occasions demonstration plots are set up to help convince farmers that the technology is appropriate and worthwhile. Thereafter, the extension officer will visit farmers on a regular basis to advise and instruct.

Prior to 1990, in East Lombok, there was only one extension officer for every two villages. However, since that time there have been enough extension workers for each village to be serviced by two workers. In 1990 an attempt was made to introduce a system whereby extension officers became specialists in particular fields. However, in 1996 this policy was reversed and each officer is now responsible for matters relating to food crop husbandry, animal husbandry, fisheries, plantation crops and forestry. Thus they are expected to be generalists capable of providing advice on a wide range of topics and issues.

The use of extension advice by farmers

Extension officers have work guidelines that broadly cover technical and market (price) information for common forms of production. They transfer government recommendation and information from research stations to farmers.

In relation to types of land, extension workers focus more on ‘old’ land, where irrigation water and distribution infrastructure is more readily available than for ‘new’ cropping land. This is apparently predicated on the belief that if irrigation is sufficiently available, agricultural technology (such as fertilising) can be applied more easily and consistently, and with high probability of production improvement. Consequently, extension worker’s spend little time on the new cropping lands, and even if they do visit ‘new’ farms, their advice is not readily accepted by farmers. The use of extension services on new cropping land has been very limited.

Most farmers (66%) stated that there are no government recommendations to be applied on their new cropping lands. Another 12% did not know whether or not there were any recommendations. The remainder (22%) were aware of government recommendations from extension workers, but only one third of these (7%) applied any of their recommendations.

There are three types of recommendation available for the new cropping lands, but the only one applied by the farmers was to grow rice during the rainy season, and with other crops to follow. This recommendation was applied by three farmer respondents because they thought that it was appropriate given the water situation on their farms. However, in reality nearly all farmers were following this strategy of rice followed by other crops, not because it was a recommendation, but because it was seen as being the obvious thing to do.

The second recommendation, to plant rice with individual plants exactly the same distance apart, using a special distance measurer, was known by three respondents. However, none of them applied it because the technique requires a lot of work, time and cost, and there was a perception that it may be ineffective in any case.

The recommendation to apply balanced fertiliser on rice (i.e. 300 kg Urea, 100 kg TSP (Triple Super Phosphate), and 75 kg KCl per hectare) was known but ignored by three farmers due to lack of capital.

In brief, even in situations where farmers were aware of the government recommendations for the new cropping lands, recommendations were ignored because they require extra expenditure and time, the techniques were not convincing in terms of producing better results, and the farmers faced the problem of lack of capital. This phenomenon is similar to that found by Fujisaka (1993; 1994), who investigated why farmers of Southeast Asia did not adopt recommendations, and found that farmers often have rational reasons related to cost, time, or biophysical aspects of the farming system. Similarly, Dorward (1996), found that poor farmers in Malawi fail to adopt new maize varieties because they lack supporting credit.

Market price information is obtained mainly (78% of farmers) from traders or outside buyers who come frequently to the villages. The farmers usually compare the prices offered by three buyers before deciding to sell at a certain price. Other sources used were, in descending order: direct visit to the market place (32%); neighbours (12%); radio (5%) and television (2%). No farmer sought market information from printed media or extension officers.

Technical information on farming practices was obtained from the farmers’ parents (63%), neighbours (31%), extension officers (24%) and the reading of brochures (7%). Information from neighbours was sometimes obtained by direct communication and sometimes by observation. This evidence suggests that although extension officers were present in all villages, most farmers were not convinced of the value of their advice. Furthermore, most of the farmers using extension officers were in one villlage, Mamben Lauq.

Farmer decision making

It is widely accepted that decision making is led by the underlying objective of the practice. This study indicated that farming objectives of the farmer respondents were strongly economic, either directly or indirectly (Table 2). Only five of the eighteen stated objectives elicited through interviews were non-economic in character, and the frequency with which they were mentioned placed them no higher than sixth place. The three main objectives, which dominated all others, were to fulfil the family’s basic needs of food, clothing and shelter, to finance children’s schooling, and to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca (Saudi Arabia).

As Moslems, the farmers are obliged to undertake a pilgrimage to Mecca once during their lifetime if they are financially and physically able to do so. Accordingly, it is likely that additional farmers, beyond the 49% that stated it as an explicit objective, would in fact have this as a long-term objective. However, given their current struggle to meet basic family needs, it may have been considered unrealistic and therefore was not mentioned.

Table 2. Farming objectives of the farmer respondents


Response of 41 farmers


Fulfil family’s basic needs



Finance childrens’ schooling



Pilgrimage to Mecca



Have or add income or investment on livestock or land



Build a house (or better house)



Provide working place for children



Donate to developments in the community or help other people



Have leisure time



Pay off or avoid debt



Make use of spare time



Substitute marketing activity



Have a simple job



Avoid stealing



Finance the next farm activities



Continue parents’ traditions



Have increasing income



Buy a motorbike (for business use)



Seek profit



As shown in the section on climate, the farming systems on the new cropping lands on East Lombok are highly seasonal. Accordingly, the farmer decision processes are analysed here on the basis of planting seasons.

It is apparent that in the first planting season farmers grow rice almost exclusively. This decision to grow rice is influenced strongly by environmental conditions, in particular the difficulty in growing other crops during this rainy season. Accordingly, if the land is available to be cropped, and not still carrying a crop from the previous season, then farmers plant rice despite the high production risk. The choice between wetland and dryland rice is determined by whether or not the land is suitable for wetland rice, and whether there is likely to be sufficient water. Some of the farmers who grow dryland rice do so because of previous crop failures with wetland rice. The decision pathways for the first planting season, together with the number of farmers following each path, are shown schematically in Figure 1.

It is apparent that decision making in the second and third planting seasons is much more complex than for the first season. This is because, as long as there is adequate water, there are a lot more crop alternatives. The first decision that farmers have to make in regard to these planting seasons is whether the land is available for cropping. Land availability is determined by whether or not the previous crop has been harvested, and whether or not there is likely to be sufficient water. This is shown schematically in Figure 2.

The process of choosing the particular crop to grow is complex. Clearly there are many considerations that farmers take into account, as indicated by the considerable diversity of reasons as to why farmers grow or do not grow particular crops. Further, the range of crops available to farmers is considerable. The crops that are finally chosen differ both between farmers and between villages, and this would appear to reflect both differing environmental conditions and different farmer perceptions of expected profit and risk. It would seem that most farmers tend to choose the same crops as the previous season as long as they are satisfied with the previous returns. However, there is also an ongoing element of searching for better alternatives. It is notable that all farmers have grown more crops than those they are currently growing.

The process to choose the particular crop can be depicted as a three-stage process (Figure 3). The first is a decision by the farmer as to whether he is satisfied with the choices made the previous year. The second stage is to eliminate all those crops that for various reasons are non-feasible due to inadequate resources. This process is similar to elimination by aspects in stage 1 of Real-life Choice Theory of Gladwin (1980). The most important of these resources is water, but in some situations lack of capital, knowledge, or labour may also be constraints. This process of elimination is largely done as a subconscious process (Gladwin & Murtaugh 1980). The third stage of the decision process is to choose between the feasible crops. This would appear to involve a trade-off between expected profit and risk. However, individual farmers have to make these decisions based on limited information, and hence they have differing perceptions as to both income and risk.

Figure 1. Farmers’ decision model for the first planting season on new cropping lands

Note: Number of farmers following both paths in total is more than the total farmers because some farmers have followed different pathways for different fields.

Figure 2. Farmers’ decision model for the second and third planting seasons on new cropping lands

Note: Number of farmers following both paths in total is more than the total farmers because some farmers have followed different pathways for different fields.

Figure 3. Crop selection process in the second and third planting seasons on new cropping lands

Note: Numbers of farmers (n) recorded following the pathways here is based on the farmers’ plans for 1997. Some farmers could not be recorded, because they have not decided their plans, and some farmers followed both pathways.

Discussion and conclusions

This research has allowed development of models of farmer decision making that facilitate better understanding of their thought processes and priorities, and thereby provide guidance for better targeting extension efforts in future. It is evident that the limited use of available extension services by farmers was due to three main reasons: (i) Food and family security could be met by growing the very familiar rice crop for which advice was deemed unnecessary. (ii) Capital constraints prohibited use of expensive inputs such as fertiliser, and appeared to be antithetical to buildup of financial reserves for such purposes as a trip to Mecca, education of children, or securing better housing or more farming capacity. (iii) Given that there is no evidence of technical research undertaken on these lands, extension officers are not in a position to train farmers in specific, appropriate practices.

This highlights the need for a farming systems approach to research and extension, such that the issues investigated are relevant to the farming situation, as experienced by the farmers. The basis for this is the finding that the crop choice and input decisions that farmers were making appeared to be logical in relation to their personal constructs as determined by their objectives, experiences and information sources (Kelly 1955). Alternative crop choices leading to a potentially higher income also involved increases in both financial outlays and perceived business risk, and were therefore seen as irrelevant.


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