Perspectives

Embers of Spirit from Merasa Village

Irmaya
Irmaya Banaweng Secretary and active member of the fermentation team of the Merasa Village Pesete Tawai Kakao Internal Control System (ICS) group. © YKAN

“Saya tahu banyak orang-orang yang hebat di sekeliling saya, pada intinya saya sambil belajar dari pengalaman setiap kegiatan-kegiatan itu. Ini pengalaman–pengalaman yang luar biasa menarik dalam hidup saya.” 
- Irmaya Banaweng-

In the dawn of sun, Irmaya Banaweng (33) has prepared provisions for the garden for herself and her family. Not long after, she and her husband went to the fermentation place, then checked the temperature and turned over the cocoa beans that were still in the fermentation box or in the solar dryer. Next, she rushed into the garden, to organize and prioritze her work for the day. After finishing all the activities in the garden, when the sun began to tilt to the west, she returned to the fermentation place, and again turned over the cocoa beans in the drying area, then returned home and did more chores.

Secretary and active member of the fermentation team of the Merasa Village Pesete Tawai Kakao Internal Control System (ICS) group.
Irmaya Banaweng Secretary and active member of the fermentation team of the Merasa Village Pesete Tawai Kakao Internal Control System (ICS) group. © Maya P/YKAN

That is the daily life of Ibu Irmaya. This woman from Merasa Village, Berau Regency, East Kalimantan is one of the drivers of the Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group.

The Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group is a partner of Yayasan Konservasi Alam Nusantara (YKAN) in the area of forest edge lines to promote conservation programs through the use of natural resources. In this case, the focus is on sustainable cocoa cultivation to increase people's income. Cocoa is the main commodity of Merasa Village which is forest-friendly. The main production of this group is fermented cocoa beans.

YKAN assists and facilitates this group in implementing good cultivation practices or Good Agriculture Practice, as well as good postharvest processes and management of derivative products. The Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group cultivates cocoa in an agroforestry method, namely planting cocoa with a combination of forestry crops. This practice becomes a strategy to protect nature from damage, protect producers from exposure to chemicals, and produce quality products for producers.

The harvested cocoa pods will be processed by the The Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao Group into the main product, namely fermented cocoa and several chocolate derivative products.
Cocoa Harvest The harvested cocoa pods will be processed by the The Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao Group into the main product, namely fermented cocoa and several chocolate derivative products. © ICS Pesete Tawei Kampung Merasa
A one time fermentation production period will process as much as 50 – 100 kg of wet cocoa beans that have been harvested. This process is the main responsibility of the fermentation team.
Wet Cocoa Beans A one time fermentation production period will process as much as 50 – 100 kg of wet cocoa beans that have been harvested. This process is the main responsibility of the fermentation team. © ICS Pesete Tawei Kampung Merasa

As a group that is still quite new, only three years later, members of the ICS group are required to play multiple roles for the sustainability of the group and the group's business. Ibu Irmaya assumes responsibility as group secretary, as well as a member of the fermentation team. In this fermentation team, and is the only woman. Her job is to carry out fermentation, as well as record the purchase of wet beans and the production of fermented beans.

As records, the fermentation team plays an important role in producing quality fermented beans. The fermented beans produced by this group are also increasingly recognized and have received regular orders from buyers of fermented cocoa beans in Bali and Jakarta.

Cocoa beans will be fermented for approximately five days by the Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group to produce their main product.
Drying of fermented cocoa beans Cocoa beans will be fermented for approximately five days by the Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group to produce their main product. © ICS Pesete Tawei Kampung Merasa
The production of fermented cocoa beans from the Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group is processed by the chocolate producer Pipiltin since February 2022.
Merasa Village 74% Chocolate Product The production of fermented cocoa beans from the Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group is processed by the chocolate producer Pipiltin since February 2022. © ICS Pesete Tawei Kampung Merasa

Currently, Ibu Irmaya is also involved in the production team that creates various derivative products from fermented cocoa beans. She also promotes it by directly meeting potential buyers and consumers. Yes, it doesn't stop at fermented cocoa beans, the Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group also produces derivative products such as chocolate bars, chocolate drinks, chocolate taffy, and chocolate cakes. In the local market, this chocolate-derived product from the Merasa Village ICS Pesete Tawai Kakao group has begun to be known. In fact, there is already a cafe in Berau that periodically orders chocolate bar products to be processed into one of the drinks in their menu.

She lives her busy lives to the fullest. Moreover, the support of family and group members flows continuously. When she was carrying out her duties as part of the Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group, her husband changed his role in doing household chores. And, when she needed help harvesting her garden, members of The Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group helped out. For the record, the Merasa Village Dayak people generally have various sources of livelihood from gardens. Various seasonal and perennial plants are grown in this garden. Therefore, sometimes there is a schedule conflict between harvesting garden produce and group activities.

This mutually supportive relationship has evidently reaped benefits when Ibu Irmaya faced a dilemma: harvesting her own garden's peanuts or fermenting cocoa. The solution, members of The Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group decided to help harvest peanuts so that Ibu Irmaya could still ferment the cocoa beans.

Irmaya Banaweng and The Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group have always been loyal to working together for the economic welfare of their community and nature conservation.
The ICS Pesete Tawai Group Irmaya Banaweng and The Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group have always been loyal to working together for the economic welfare of their community and nature conservation. © ICS Pesete Tawei Kampung Merasa

Ibu Irmaya's experience in the Merasa Village Internal Control System (ICS) Pesete Tawai Kakao group inspired her to realize her personal goals. “I know a lot of great people around me. Essentially, I learned a lesson from each activity. These are incredibly interesting experiences in my life,” she said.

Her experience and involvement in the fermentation, production, and marketing teams has made her brave to dream big. She wants to teach other farmers to know more about the ins and outs of cocoa. However, she hesitated because she feels that she, herself still need to learn more to be able to realize this dream.

She also dreams of having a garden with cocoa, coffee, and other crops of economic value, located on the side of a village road. In the center of the garden, there will be a small cafe selling food and drinks made from chocolate and other garden products. This is a kind of concept of garden to table. It is utterly unique, with a high touch of locality.

The planis to have cocoa and coffee planted in the former fields through the agroforestry method, which can increase land cover, as well as open up income opportunities for the people involved in the business.

One of the main commodities of Merasa Village, Berau Regency, East Kalimantan, which is the inspiration and hope of the community for a better and sustainable economic resource.
Cocoa Fruit One of the main commodities of Merasa Village, Berau Regency, East Kalimantan, which is the inspiration and hope of the community for a better and sustainable economic resource. © Merry Tobing/YKAN

Readied with passion, perseverance, and patience,Ibu Irmaya continues to strengthen her steps to provide the best for her family, community, and nature in which she takes shelter. There is a dream waiting to be realized.