Tonny Sie - Canada

During my October 2010 visit to Indonesia, I had the opportunity of observing a unique development program aimed at raising the standard of living of poor villages in Central Java. “Yayasan Obor Tani” (Obor Tani  Foundation), a foundation supported by several private industries, has been spearheading a program to help local village farmers cultivate quality tropical fruit farms.

 

The founder of this program, Mr Budi Dharmawan, who is a brother of the ex minister Kwik Kian Gie (Menko Ekuin / ketua Bappenas), reasoned that since Indonesia is blessed with plenty of sunshine, rain, and a very fertile volcanic soil, there is no reason why it can not be a top producer of quality tropical fruits. Ideally Indonesia should be a net exporter of tropical fruits. It is a sad irony that at the present moment the supermarkets in Indonesia are inundated with tropical fruits from overseas especially Thailand and China.

Mr Budi Dharmawan is the owner of a successful fruit farm business ‘Plantera – fruit paradise”. He has successfully produced quality tropical fruits: Durian, Longan, Dragon Fruit, Srikaya, Rambutan, varieties of Melons and others. The agricultural know-how acquired on this plantation is used as the basis for the education and development of the ‘tropical fruit farmer/grower village’.

The overall aim of the program is to increase the standard of living in the poor villages, to contribute to reducing the wealth gap within the Indonesian community and to prevent migration of the young villagers to the bigger cities.

The program relies on donations and participation from the private sectors. It is argued that by achieving a better standard of living, the poor villagers will have better resources and buying power to acquire products from the donor companies. Thus it will be a symbiotic proposition and a healthier community.

Specifically the objectives of ‘Yayasan Obor Tani’ are:

1. To adopt and apply modern agricultural technology to fruit growing.

2. To educate the local/traditional farmers.

3. To effectively cultivate the farmland to its maximal potential.

Traditionally, Indonesian farmers are involved in the cultivation of ‘food staple commodity’ (rice, corn, soy, etc.) or ‘raw material’ for the manufacturing industries (rubber, tobacco, coffee beans, cloves, tea, etc.). In both cases the village farmer can’t expect to gain good income from their efforts. In the first case the government controls the price of food commodity and in the second, the farmers are not in a good bargaining position against the manufacturing industries. For this reason the program chooses tropical fruit cultivation, because of a more favourable market price.

At the present moment the traditional village farmers do not possess the up-to-date technological know how to compete against the overseas professional tropical fruit growers. The strategy of ‘Yayasan Obor Tani’ (Farmer’s Torch Foundation) is to provide, in stages, the technological skill and know how, materials and modern land cultivation techniques to the village farmers.

The first stage is to select a traditional farming village consisting of about 100 individual heads of farmer families who own approximately 2000 m2 farmland each for a total of 20 hectares. The land remains the property of the farmers, however they will be giving rights to ‘Yayasan Obor Tani’ to develop it into a “Farmer/Grower Development Centre” (Sentra Pemberdayaan Tani – SPT).

At this centre a man-made pond of 7500 – 10000 m3 capacity is built at the highest elevation in the area. Its bottom is covered with geo-membrane to prevent rainwater from being absorbed into the ground. Water collected in the man-made pond during the rainy season will be used for irrigation during the dry season, by means of gravity. This will effectively irrigate the entire 20 hectares of farmland at little cost.

At this centre about 20 young farmer cadres from several villages (2 to 3 persons per village) will be exposed to modern agricultural/food growing techniques by Yayasan Obor Tani’s agricultural technicians. Living and accommodation expenses as well as the cost of seedlings, plant nutrients and chemicals, irrigation, education, and all operational costs are paid for by the foundation . A building containing a lecture hall, a meeting room, an administration office, and living quarters for student farmers, is provided on location.

These 20 cadres and the other 80 family farming heads are supervised and trained daily by the yayasan’s agricultural technicians (who are also living at the Farmer/Grower Development Centre) for about 3 ½ years. This is the time required for the fruit seedlings to mature into a fruit producing plant.

At time of the first harvest, Yayasan Obor Tani will then return the land to the respective farming heads, they will be assisted by the 20 graduated farming cadres in ensuring a successful tropical fruit growing business.

The yayasan’s agricultural technicians will follow up with monitoring the progress of the fruit farming villages on a regular basis. Yayasan Obor Tani also provides help in marketing the produce.

It is projected that this program will raise the farmer’s income from Rp 300,000.00 per month per family to a minimum of Rp 1,000,000.00. The program started in Central Java. At the time of my visit, there were 5 “Farmer/Grower Development Centres” (Sentra Pemberdayaan Tani – SPT) in operation. The plan is to open up another 25 SPT’s in Central Java and later on in other parts of Indonesia.

The first SPT (Farmer/Grower Development Centre) was built at the Ginting Village (dusun Gedeg, sub- district Jambu, regency Semarang), where Longan (dragon eye fruit) seedlings of the Itoh variety were planted. I visited it in October of 2010 just 3 months prior to its anticipated first harvest. The man-made pond was quite impressive, it contained a large volume of rain water. The land was well cultivated with the young Longan plants. The administration building containing the lecture hall, meeting room and living quarters for the students were located in the centre and near the man-made pond. Overall it represented a very well organized and cultivated farmland.

From my discussions with the local village head, local farmers and the yayasan technician, everybody seemed to be pleased with the development and was eagerly waiting for the first harvest. Everybody was very helpful in providing information about the program.

This appears to be a very holistic and integrated development program that includes land preparation, material selection, basic education in modern plant cultivation techniques. The Vice-Governor of Central Java (Dra. Hj. Ritriningsih Msi) acknowledged in her article that compared to the official government development programs, which more or less deals with one specific activity at a time (e.g. one or two-day training, seminars, providing superior seedlings, etc), the Yayasan Obor Tani’s program is a much more efficient and integrated. And above all it served as a confidence builder for the local farmers to raise their standard of living with their acquired modern fruit growing skills. (*)

 

Reference:

1. Yayasan Obor Tani power point presentation 25 November 2005

2. A New Approach to Develop Central Java by Dra. Hj. Ristriningsih. Msi, Vice Governor of Central Java.