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!