Business is booming along Aceh's new roads and in its bustling markets. The promise of prosperity is palpable in this new era of peace.
The demand for fresh fish remains high, particularly among health conscious consumers who are wary of the chemical preservatives some vendors use to make marine fish look fresher than they are.
"You don't get tired selling tilapia fish," says Bustami Ibrahim, a middleman at Banda Aceh's Peunayong market. "Begin at six in the morning and you sell out straight away."
Bustami sells his tilapia to retail traders who then sell to consumers and restaurants, like this small café in Banda Aceh where some regulars order tilapia 3 to 4 times a day. The manager says customers prefer farmed fish because they order them fresh and alive.
In 2010, Muhammad and Abdul caught wind of ways to take their business to another level. CCA, PASKA and the Multi-donor Fund managed by the World Bank had joined with local governments to help those left behind Aceh's growth move higher up the value chain.
Muhammad and Abdul joined forces with other co-operatives of fish farmers, marine fishers, rice farmers and snack food producers to create the KOPEMAS Aceh marketing Co-op - their own specialized marketing business. Muhammad lent a portion of his land to help KOPEMAS establish a demonstration pond for growing hardier brood fish to sell to members. Member fish farmers learned new water management techniques, and benefited from savings earned by buying feed, fertilizer and medicines in bulk through KOPEMAS. This approach went beyond providing seed capital and technical training to marginalized entrepreneurs. It put Muhammad, Abdul and others in the driver's seat of their co-operative business, rekindling the spirit of trust and self-reliance so needed in this post-conflict region of the world.
It is harvest time now. Muhammad and Abdul scoop up some 600 kilograms of healthy tilapia fish from the muddy floor of the KOPEMAS demonstration pond. They net their catch and prepare a celebratory dinner of fresh fish.
Abdul says the methods they adopted from ponds they visited in other parts of Indonesia are bearing fruit in Nagan Raya. His fish are selling in Banda Aceh, 200 kilometres away. The co-op will soon buy cooler trucks to help transport fish to markets even farther afield.
Co-op revenue is growing, and with it, Muhammad's prospects for the future.
People no longer laugh when he talks about growing fish from the land.
Wiping mud and sweat from his brow, Muhammad says with a smile, "thanks be to God, I can now cultivate fish."