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.”