Udi Sodikin – A Dedicated Farmer with High Spirits!
"Going forward, never looking back. Farming all the way until all my skin is wrinkled..." This life motto of farmer Udi Sodikin, which reflects the general idealism of farmers' dedication in Tasikmalaya. Rice farming is a tradition passed down by generations in Indonesia, and it is an important part of Indonesian culture, with rice as its staple food for 230 million people.
Udi, who is 67 this year belongs to Simpatik farmer group. He has been cultivating rice since he was 17, an age that is considered sufficiently to be 'an adult' in villages. Instead of his worn out t-shirt, Today he puts on his only Batik, a luxurious traditional hand-painted fabric worn for special occasions. He is very excited and nervous at the same time for today is a life changing moment for him. He will be interviewed by certification inspectors and if he makes it, he will be part of Simpatik Farmer Corporative, the first ever group to achieve international certification for organic and fair trade rice in Indonesia!
While waiting for his turn, he was accompanied by his cousin, Bahgiok Maman Frimansa, also a rice farmer of 53 years old. Udi was experiencing rheumatic pain on his leg and Bahgiok is helping Udin to ease the pain by massaging it. Bahgiok is an integral part of Udin's life, and he was also the person who first introduced Organic SRI method to him.
Bahgiok, who loves the environment, is always looking for a more natural way of farming. In 2000, he enrolled himself in SLPHT (Sekolah Lapang Pengendalian Hama Terpadu), a government school program to combat diseases through a more natural method. In 2006, he learned about SRI method from Penyuluh Pertanian Lapangan, field mentors assigned by the government to guide small scale farmers.
Bahgiok became excited after learning the methods and advantages of SRI and immediately implemented it on his land of 135 bata or 0.19 hectares. On his first harvest, productivity went up from 5 kg/bata to 5.5 kg/bata. Season after season, as more homemade compost is infused to increase land fertility, productivity further increased. By now, his yield has reached 7.3 kg/bata, which is 46% improvement by using SRI method.
Bahgiok shared the news of his first harvest productivity increase with Udin, who was shocked that a more natural method with less inputs can yield better crops and productivity. He went to Bahgiok’s paddy field to witness the miracle of nature himself. He was convinced, and eventually abandoned his previous method that required chemical fertilizers, and until today enjoys the many advantages of SRI.
Both of them agreed that aside from the increase in productivity, there are many other benefits of using the SRI method. The rice grains are better in quality, more aromatic and dense, making them more enjoyable to consume. Udin and Bahgiok also agrees that the density of the rice, which they believed is an indication of nutrients, makes them feel full with less rice. They are not lethargic after meals, and have more energy to work on the fields. They are happy that the SRI does not only help improve the environment by restoring soil fertility and biodiversity, but also their health. Because of the increased productivity, both of them are also getting higher incomes, which both of them have saved up to buy goats – Udin has 6 and Bahgiok has 9. Owning livestock, such as goats, is a sign of success and wealth for farmers in their villages.
For Udin, who is nearly 70 years old, using the SRI method has given him a distinctively different benefit. He finds it effortless to plough the land after he introduced rich compost which makes the soil loose and soft. This is a remarkable difference from what he used to face before: compressed, and sticky soil, a result from overusing chemical fertilizers. This unhealthy soil condition requires a significant amount of strength to plough and therefore takes a toll on an old man’s body.
Udin loves being a farmer so much, that he does not take a day off from his field. A typical day for him (and most farmers too) would be:
- 03:00 Waking up and showering
- 04:15 Morning prayers
- 06:00 Having breakfast (typically lots of rice for energy, vegetables, and salted fish)
- 06:30 Working in paddy field
- 12:00 Cutting grass for his 6 goats (1 goat eats about 8 kg of grass so he manually cuts about 50 kg of grass with a sabit, a traditional crescent-shaped grass cutter).
- 12:30 Snack/coffee and midday prayers
- 13:00 Transporting the cut grass to his goats (he packs the grass in a sack of 15 kg capacity and carries 2 sacks with him at one go. He makes 2 journeys)
- 17:00 Going back home for an afternoon nap
- 18:00 Having dinner with the family (rice, vegetables, salted fish, and fresh fish once a week, meat once a month)
- 19:00 Night prayers
- 20:00 Bedtime (there is no night entertainment and very few own TVs in the villages)
Udin hopes that the premium he receives from the export will, first and foremost, will make it affordable to send his youngest child to university. He has 4 children, 1 daughter and 3 sons. Both of his sons are working in car workshop, and his daughter is a housewife married to a driver. He hopes that the youngest son, who is still studying, will be the first one in the family to receive university education.
When asked if he would also like to buy a TV or go for a holiday trip with the extra money, he replied,” no no…. that is too much of a luxury for me! I would like it very much if I can start a pension fund, which I have none at the moment. I am old now, and one month ago, I started having rheumatism pain in my leg. I will farm for a few more years, or even longer, as long as my body allows me to. When it is time for me to retire and rest, I would be happy if I have a pension fund so that I do not have to worry about money.” He paused for a while, and then he added with a smile, “My arms and my legs can stop farming but never my heart! I will always continue to love and bless the paddy fields.”
Siti Rohmat - The Iron Lady of Tasikmalaya
If you mention the name of Siti Rohmat to Tasikmalaya farmers, you can first see a flash of fear, followed by a knowing smile. Siti Rohmat broke cultural rules to be the only woman farmer group leader of of a whole district, taking charge of 4 groups of over 300 farmers with fields over 112 hectare for 15 years.
She is known to be to be a really strict leader. If something is not right, she Is known to ‘nag’ at the farmer over and over again until the mistake is rectified. Her farmers often comment that,” Siti is fussy about things. If you do something wrong, you will not hear the end of it until you do it right. However, we all really love her because we know that she meant good, and she is very active as a leader. We respect her a lot and deep down, she really has a kind heart.”
Siti Rohmat began her journey as a farmer since she was 12 years old. Upon completing primary school, she helped out her parents in the paddy field. Back then, education for girls was not deemed to be important. By 14, she was married to her husband, Hadian, and they are blessed with 3 kids, Muhamad, Siti Umaroh, and Muhamad Barhanudin, who are all grown up and married.
Siti continued to farm after marriage and had been using the conventional method that her parents had taught her. In 1996, she was introduced to SRI System of Rice Intensification by the government. In a few seasons, her land became healthier, producing 50% more paddies in a few seasons, and she felt healthier consuming the rice. She began teaching her group members SRI, asserting that, “man is nature and nature is man. We coexist together. We need each other. We must take care of the health of our soil, so in turn, the soil takes care of our children.”
In 2008, Siti and one of her groups specializing in SRI organic comprising of 80 members (65%women, and 35%men) joined Simpatik. She was excited on the possibility that they were working on exporting organic fair rice. Undergoing the training, she realized how stringent international standards were, and put in a lot of efforts for her group to prepare for the inspection. She went around the fields, and ensured that the required practices are in place. Of course, this means she was constantly telling the farmers what to do, sometimes annoying them, sometimes making them laugh (as seen in pic), but most importantly, improving their practice.
Her discipline proved to be an advantage for international certification. During IMO inspection, the inspector was very pleased by how organized her group data system was. The farmers’ journals were very neatly written, and activities were recorded in a systematic way. Together with their excellent organic practice, Siti and her group passed the certification!
When asked what she would do with the premium income that she will receive because of the certification, she first gave a hard piercing look with her eyes, and a few seconds later, broke into a smile. She said “ well, my children are now big, so I do not have to worry about raising them now. My dream is always to travel. I want to go for religion pilgrimage, and then enjoy myself in Bali!”
Well, now we know why she is so feared and so loved at the same time!
KRIBO - From Nightlife to a Bright Life
There is no doubt that if one day you meet this guy on the street, you would never think he is a farmer. A comedian? More likely!
Hendra Afandi probably one of the most outgoing, funny, and expressive person you will ever meet. The first time you see him, what will strike you the most is his hair! Yes, the biggest and curliest hair in Tasikmalaya! Just like his personality, his hair definitely makes a statement “I’m here!”
He talent to make others laugh is the reason why he decided during his younger days when he was 30s to be a tour guide in Bali. He showed the wonders of Bali to its many international tourists. At night, he partied hard with them, and unfortunately, enjoying himself too much alcohol. Many times he came back drunk, and after 12 years, he realized the damage that alcohol did to his body. “I was sick of night life. There were too many temptations, and my body cannot take the abuse of chemicals anymore,” he explained. He decided to go back to his hometown, Tasikmalaya, to help his family with their rice farming and be united with nature.
After years of conventional farming, in 2002, he heard about a new course, Sekolah Lapangan Pembelajaran Ecology Tanah, or field school for soil ecology. Here, he learned that about the negative impact of chemicals and how they destroy the health of the soil and how SRI can improve the conditions. He immediately implemented it on his land of 1 hectare in size, becoming a pioneer in SRI in Indonesia. The first harvest, he put in a lot of manual labor to make organic compost and weeding. The productivity remains the same. The second season, his usual yield of 3.5 tons/hectare increased to 4 tons/hectare. In the third season, it went up to 5 tons. Currently, his field is producing on the average 7 tons/hectares.
In 2008, he joined Simpatik and by 2009, he passed international certification for organic and fair trade. He commented that,” I feel proud, not only for me but for my nation, because international certification is not easy. “ With the premium, for the certification, he managed to put his first daughter, Fitri, through university. It is unconventional for farmers to be able to afford university education for their children. The government gives free education only up to high school. “FItri is now majoring in Agriculture in UNSIL (Universitas Siliwangi), and I hope that my other three daughters Nada, primary 6, Nafa, primary 2, and Kaila, kindergarten 1, will be able to at least achieve her level of education,” Kribo said with a big smile.
He believes that education is the key, as that is why he recently started his own field school for poor farmers. He chuckled when explaining, ” many people give me the nickname “kribo” (curly in English) because of my Afro hair. But since I have learned SRI, I tell them that yes, my name is Kribo, but it stands for Kunci Rahasia Innovasi Bahan Organik (or The Key Secret to Innovative Organic Ingerdients)! Usually people laugh when they heard it, and they always remember it!”
He is sad that Indonesia has fertile soil, but is behind Thailand and Brazil when it comes to exporting. He believes that Indonesian farmers must realize and cultivate the potential of Indonesia rich natural resources together. Changing his naturally funny face to be more serious, Hendra asserted,” farmers must be up to date for two reasons. First is to assure the livelihood of future generations, and second is to contribute to the prosperity of other farmers. Farmers must unite and remember the power in strangth: bersatu kita teguh, bercerai kita runtuh (or united we stand, divided we fall in English)!”
How does he convince other farmers to be organic and learn about SRI? Kribo humored them by asking,” you know Bob Marley’s song ‘No Woman No Cry’? For us, it’s ‘No Paddy No Money’! So lets make good paddy!”