Sunday, November 30, 2008
  You Reap What You Sow.

Three little girls in Sampangan district, Semarang, participate in a feast to celebrate the rice harvest season on Saturday. The feast is part of a traditional culture that is beginning to make its way back to the life of modern-day farmers in Semarang.

That's all it says on this page, and I presume there's a photo that goes with it which my dial up connection couldn't handle. But no matter: just read that last sentence again.

And maybe rejoice.

And this is a picture of SBY enjoying himself in July this year.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (center), First Lady Ani Yudhoyono (fourth from right) and Agriculture Minister Anton Apriantono (fourth from left) hold up stalks of rice as North Sumatra Governor Syamsul Arifin (third from left) waves his hand, in a ceremony on Saturday (19th July 2008) to mark the grand harvest in Nagori Panembean village in Simalungun, North Sumatra.

In a discussion with local farmers and officials, Yudhoyono called on the people to intensify agricultural activities to attain self-sufficiency in food supplies and help defuse the world food crisis.

He also said the government would continue increasing the fertilizer subsidy, expected to reach Rp 1.5 trillion next year, to improve farmers' social welfare and minimize the country's dependence on imported rice.

A year ago I published a series of articles about the inroads being made by various oligarchs, especially Tommy Winata*, Jusuf Kalla and Taufik Kiemas, to force farmers to plant hybrid seeds. SBY has been the happy figurehead in all this whilst the others have been making multi-million dollar deals with Chinese hybrid seed developers, and Bayer, a company also in league with the Burmese generals.

As befits the leader of Indonesia presiding in the shadows of Sukarno and Suharto, this month SBY has called for the country to become food self-sufficient. It's a national priority.

"Indonesia must struggle to reach food self-sufficiency, and learn not to rely on other countries because we have our own good resources with which to develop the agriculture sector," said Yudhoyono during a rice harvesting ceremony in Jeruk Nyelap village in Sukabumi, West Java, while accompanied by First Lady Any Yudhoyono.

"Fortunately, this year we have reached self-sufficiency in rice and corn. This year's increase in rice production is the greatest during the last 12 years."

He said the country's rice production was expected to reach 60 million tons this year, up 5.46 percent from 57 tons last year, as estimated by the Central Statistic Agency.

Rice harvested in paddies during the event were grown from Benih Prima and Benih Super strains; High-quality seeds produced by PT Sumber Alam Sutera*, an agriculture company owned by tycoon Tommy Winata.

Observers will be interested to learn whether the hybrid seeds generate productive yields in the second harvest, or perhaps they will only harvest empty husks.

The government came under fire from farmers two months ago when the government-endorsed Supertoy HL2 rice strain was tested on a number of plantations resulting in failed harvests. The Agriculture Ministry said the new variety had not been certified by the government.

Yudhoyono also said efforts to improve the agriculture sector should not be hampered by the spread of infrastructure development.

"We should ensure that land for paddy fields is always available," he said.

It's possible that he had in mind the rapid takeover of Bali by real estate developers who've seen a dramatic rise in income and profits from the construction and renting of villas and 'exclusive' resorts for hedonistic expatriates.

Yet I also pointed out that in India, and elsewhere, that the most productive yields of rice were those that took into account local conditions and farming practices, including planting those strains of rice which were best suited to those areas. My articles gave enough links to background information to demonstrate that agri-business practices may boost yields in the short term but eventually prove harmful in terms of the depletion of soil fertility and the run off of chemicla fertilisers into the water table.

Furthermore, I also espoused the system of rice intensification (SRI) which can increase yields by over 30% - four to five tonnes per hectare instead of three tonnes per hectare - while using 40% less water than conventional methods. This has been known for much longer than I originally thought, as this wiki page points out.

It is somewhat pleasing, therefore, to find that The Jakarta Post has rallied to the cause.

Yogyakarta's School of Agricultural Technology at Gadjah Mada University (FTP UGM), together with farm groups from across the province, have discovered a new rice planting system they call the System of Rice Intensification (SRI).

The conventional method is to plant 25-day-old seedlings at a depth of five centimeters, spaced 10 to 25 cm apart and with several seedlings in a single hole.

The SRI uses seedlings less than 15 days old, planted at a depth of between two and three cm, spaced at least 25 cm apart and a single seedling to a hole.

Researcher Sigit Supadmo, connected with the SRI planting system at the FTP UGM, said the method had been tested since 2005. It has been tested in Malang, East Java, besides across Yogyakarta. According to Sigit, it is a breakthrough in rice cultivation and done only by altering plant, water and nutrient management. This system also saves water, making it applicable in areas prone to water shortage.

"Yields will increase and food self-reliance can be achieved," Sigit said.

Nuryanto, a farmer in Kulonprogo, said he had been able to save up to 50 percent in production costs since he began using the SRI planting pattern. He uses a maximum of only 10 kilograms of seedlings per hectare, compared to between 30 and 50 kg when using the conventional planting method.

"I can save up to 50 percent in chemical fertilizers. I only need 25 kg to fertilize a 1,000 square meter plot now, compared to 50 kg earlier. However, each 1,000 m2 must be dispersed with 1,000 kg of urea which I can easily obtain from the cattle stall," he said.

"I also use 40 percent less water."

The SRI system also conserves water because irrigation is only required during planting and when the paddy is between 10 and 20 days old.

Another farmer in Sleman, Subadi, said the SRI system was beneficial for farmers because they could reap more yields. Besides lower production costs, harvests also increase. Yields increase because the 25 cm distance between each plant allows it to grow optimally and produce more stalks.

The conventional method only yields an average of 5.4 tons of dried unhusked rice per hectare, compared to the SRI system which can produce up to 11.5 tons per ha.

All we need now, is for SBY to read this post, or better still to study the results from FTM UGM, ponder the benefits, include costs savings, and compel local agri-business concerns to Think Indonesia rather than their corporate profits.

Tradition still has a key role to play, and it would be good if next harvest SBY joins those three girls in their harvest festival. Then we'd all have something to rejoice.


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