On the Indonesian island of Sumatra, constructing a rural road became the opportunity for a rural community to develop the local economy and take charge of its own future.

In the village of Trimulyo, Lampung Province, on the southern tip of the Indonesian island of Sumatra, farmers heave a sigh of relief when the rainy season arrives. The many fields of rice, corn, and cassava dotting the landscape finally get the water they need to produce the copious harvests that sustain the local economy.

Yet, like in so many rural areas across the country, every year the arrival of rain is also met with some reservations. All too often, during the wet season dirt roads become impassable and daily life grinds to a halt. Potholes filled with muddy water quickly form, making daily tasks like going to school, visiting the local clinic, or tending animals and the fields virtually impossible.

When the villagers from Trimulyo came together in 2010 to decide how to spend the first of four instalments of 250 million Indonesian rupiahs (around $25,000) allocated to them from Indonesia’s program for community empowerment, known as Program Nasional Pemberdayaan Masyarakat (PNPM) Mandiri Rural Infrastructure Support, to develop rural infrastructure, they had no doubts: a new all-weather road is what they needed. Work began and was completed the following year. Two years on, the villagers are more confident than ever that they made the right decision.

“Before the new road was built, it was very difficult for us to go from place to place, especially during the rainy season,” says Iman, a village representative.

Trias Wilujeng, a housewife with four children, concurs. “The road is very convenient now. In the past, you had to walk through the fields to go anywhere. Now we can move more easily.”

Over 750 families in Trimulyo have benefitted from the new road. Children can now walk to school and mothers bring their infants to the local clinic even at the peak of the rainy season. But for the villagers, the priority was to develop the local economy, and the new road delivered on that.

Saving time and money for the people of Trimulyo

Without an all-weather road, daily tasks like visiting a field or transporting tools, can become a stumbling block in the life of a farmer. At harvest time, villagers had to resort to hiring motorcycles, which could only deliver 15 to 20 kilograms of crops on each journey, costing money, as well as being inefficient and time consuming. With the new road, a car or truck can now transport up to three tons of rice, corn, or cassava per trip. Similarly, fertilizers can be transported to the fields more easily.

"We used to get 6.5 to 7 tons of rice per hectare before the road was built. Now we get 8 to 9 tons."

 Ikhwan, a 63-year old corn farmer

“Previously we could only bring in fertilizer by the sack with a motorbike, costing us 2,000 to 2,500 rupiahs per sack,” says Kunyi Ali, head of the village. “Now we can use a car where we can fit over 50 sacks per journey. Renting a car costs us 150,000 rupiahs per day, but this is a great improvement considering that we need between 300 and 400 sacks of fertilizer per hectare.”

The impact on production has been noticeable.

“We used to get 6.5 to 7 tons of rice per hectare before the road was built. Now we get 8 to 9 tons,” says Ikhwan, a 63-year old corn farmer, from nearby Temboyo village.

As harvest yields increased, so has disposable income.

“It used to cost us 500,000-600,000 rupiahs per hectare to transport the harvest, but now it’s only 300,000. This means 200,000-300,000 rupiahs more for us,” continues Ikhwan.

A community in which all have a stake

Villagers are now planning to collect a small percentage of the extra income from the farmers who benefitted directly from the road to create a fund that can be used for the benefit of the entire community.

“We’ll form a maintenance group to decide how much to collect and how the funding should be used,” says Hairun, a 58-year-old farmer.

Funding road maintenance work done by the villagers themselves remains a top priority, of course. But initiatives that go beyond keeping the existing infrastructure in good working order are also on the cards.

“Part of the money should support community development, like welfare for women,” says Samiyati, a 50-year-old housewife.

Others, like Martono, 36, farmer, hope that the money can be used to extend the road to areas of the villages not yet reached by the road.

“The high school is just 100 meters away from the road. I hope we can soon build a road to reach it.”

Ultimately, however, it will be up to the entire community to decide how to spend the money.

ADB project officer Siti Hasanah explains that a fundamental aim of the project is to make sure that people take charge of their own future.

“The project is meant to help communities but also to stimulate them. Villagers should take the initiative and move things further themselves,” she says.

The villagers of Trimulyo have responded to the challenge and have shown their enthusiasm for community projects. The work is hard, but people are happy to put the effort in when they see that it makes a difference. 

“Thanks to the new road my children can go to school more easily,” says Ms. Marsila, a housewife. “At times, I get tired working on the project, but I do it happily because I know that my work will benefit people.”