Cultivating change in Boven Digoel, Papua

Ogenetan village, Papua, Indonesia – The scent of the Celebes pepper plant hits you before you even reach Ogenetan in the heart of Papua’s Boven Digoel district. Called sereh merah, the plant is used by communities across Papua to drive away evil spirits.

Today, locals also use the peppers in the making of pesticides to protect their crops. Riswanto, a local economic development field assistant with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) project that trained residents in the process, said that people in Ogenetan had been surprised to learn sereh merah had other uses.  


  • Locals in Boven Digoel in Papua province are being trained to produce and use organic fertilizer to boost their agriculture production
  • The trainings are part of UNDP’s People-Centered Development Program, which aims to increase local economic opportunities and improve incomes
  • New cultivation techniques have increased crop yields and incomes
  • Boven Digoel residents are no longer reliant on rubber yields and middlemen

“People here are superstitious. Sereh merah and sereh wangi [lemongrass] before were used only to ward off the devil or evil spirits. Now, people know how to mix these ingredients with tobacco to make organic pesticides,” Riswanto said.

He said before the project started in Boven Digoel in April 2014, locals did not cultivate crops because the soil in the area was of poor quality. The project provided people with training in cultivation techniques and the making of organic pesticides and fertilizers.

Part of UNDP’s People-Centered Development Program (PCDP), the project was funded by New Zealand Aid (NZAID) and jointly implemented by UNDP and the National Development Planning Agency (BAPPENAS). The PCDP aims to improve economic opportunities, and is working in partnership with local civil society organisations (CSOs) across several regencies in Papua.

The homemade fertilizers have improved soil quality in the area, and villagers are now able to grow chili peppers, eggplant, mustard greens, kale, and tomatoes. By December 2014, approximately 30 households in Ogenetan each earned between IDR 200,000 (US$15) and IDR 800,000 (US$60) a month from the sale of their crops.  

Beatta Enanok, 52, said the training she was given taught her new planting techniques, as well as the proper way to use the fertilizer she is now making on her own. She added that when she was younger she would spread seeds on top of soil and just “hope that fruits of good quality would grow.”

Today, Beatta and her husband, Januaris Rombut, manage a plot of land measuring 50 meters by 40 meters. With the help of fertilizers and pesticides to kill maggots and beetles, she earns up to IDR 600,000 (US$45) a month selling her homegrown items like spinach and papaya.



Infrastructure and transportation is a major problem in Papua, particularly in the far-flung district of Boven Digoel. It takes nine hours on bad roads to reach the regency from Merauke, and from Boven Digoel’s capital, Tanah Merah, it takes at least two hours to reach Ogenetan.

Ogenatan is very isolated, and because of the lack of affordable transportation, those living there travel to the nearest district, Mindiptana, on foot. It can take six hours.

Iniyandit sub-district chief Yan Karowa said Ogenetan was known for its rubber trees. However, villagers never made much money from the trees because of Ogenetan’s inaccessibility, which continues to this day.

“The economic turnaround is very slow. People in Ogenetan depended on middlemen who would buy their rubber at horrible prices or they would rely on a barter system – rubber for daily necessities like soap, food, vegetables and so on,” Yan said.

He added, “Our own people could not get out of the village to make ends meet and satisfy their daily needs. The middlemen would get groceries and other daily necessities for the people of Ogenetan in exchange for rubber. They ended up owing a lot to middlemen.”

“They were at a loss and nobody could help them because we are so isolated. Then UNDP entered.” The project helped people redirect their focus to horticulture.


More work

Things changed in the area. Yan said women no longer worked alone. Men were now helping them.

“Money, we know, is not everything. Their mindsets about farming and crops have changed – and this is a win. So, it is not just raising the dignity of the women of Boven Digoel, but getting the same kind of acknowledgement for the women from their own husbands.”

“Some households are making IDR 1.5 million [US$112] a month. This is something for people here. For the people of Boven Digoel, even using a hoe is something new,” he said.  

Innosensia Onat, 33, and her husband, Xaverius Kewe, 45, echoed the views of District Chief Yan. She said that she had always liked planting crops but could never get them to survive due to pests.

“After the training I received from UNDP, I began to plant long beans, morning glory and turnips regularly. Every time I sell now, I get at least IDR 200,000 every two or three days. I can get soap, shampoo, detergent for washing clothes, and salt for food. Everyday needs,” she said. “This helps my husband and my three children very much. I cannot only make ends meet. I can do more than that now.”

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Indonesia 
Go to UNDP Global