From rice field to fishpond: Reclaiming damaged land

Published: 5 January 2009 0:00 CET

Megan Rowling, British Red Cross in Indonesia This is the fourth in a series of nine profiles/case studies, looking at how Red Cross Red Crescent has helped people to rebuild their own lives after the tsunami in Indonesia.

Before the tsunami, Ben Khari’s home village of Alue Riyeung, on the north Acehnese island of Pulo Nasi, looked out over rice fields, separated from the beach by a swamp filled with coconut palms and mangroves.

But the huge waves that smashed into the island’s coastal villages flooded the area with seawater and ripped out the trees. The semi-circle of land is now abandoned, dotted with large pools of stagnant water and tree stumps.

“It’s no good for paddy anymore, because without trees, the wind will blow in and damage the rice,” explains Ben.


He and a group of five other resourceful villagers put their heads together and came up with a fresh way to make use of the ruined fields. With the aid of a group grant of 3,164 Swiss francs from the British Red Cross, they have constructed a large fishpond at one edge.

First, they fenced off a 30 square metre section of stagnant water using debris from coconut trees destroyed by the tsunami (this, Ben boasts, took them just a week). Then, in April, they stocked the pond with around 3,000 bandeng (milk) fish, which they bought in the provincial capital Banda Aceh.

Because they’ve opted for a non-intensive method, the fish won’t be ready to sell until late August. Every morning, Ben or one of his partners heads down to the pond to give the fish their daily ration of three kilos of semi-organic food.


Ben is keen to stress the ecological benefits of their approach, as well as pointing out that it’s cheaper. High-nutrient food is expensive, and because they used a flooded patch of land and recycled timber, they didn’t have to hire a digger or purchase fencing materials.

The group members don’t have to rely on the fish project for their main source of income, so they are treating it as an experiment for rehabilitating the wide expanse of land damaged by the tsunami.

“We are aware that this activity takes a long time to produce benefits, but we see it as a good way of exploiting the potential of the natural resources here. It’s an investment,” explains Ben.

“We also come here and relax with the family, so we’re all doing this project merrily,” he smiles.