Last year

sakuddei copy

Last year, the same Sunday, on January 18, 2015, Darmanto (my husband)’s article was published in the biggest daily newspaper in Indonesia. He made a book review, and also, his own book was reviewed by the editorial team. The book that he reviewed was “Aku dan Orang Sakuddei” (Me and Sakuddei) by Reimar Schefold. It was a memoar of doing ethnographic fieldworks. You can see it on the picture above, it’s the book with two people on its cover. The cover of my husband’s book, “Berebut Hutan Siberut”, written with Abidah Setyowati, was the grey one with a picture of one person squatting while looking up. Another book (the red one) was “Bebetei Uma” by Bambang Rudito, also about the same topic with the other two.

Each book was about Mentawai, a tribe in remote islands west of West Sumatra. Reimar Schefold is one of the pioneer in Mentawai Studies, while my husband was one of the most deeply engaged Indonesian scholar in the field.

The first time he step foot in Siberut, the biggest island in Mentawai, he was a biology undergraduate student, doing research on swidden agriculture for his final thesis under his supervisor’s project umbrella. He came in and out of the forest and became a “siripok” (a friend that is considered as a brother or part of the extended family in Mentawai). He ended up getting a job at UNESCO and spent around 8 years in Siberut plus another two years moving back and forth from Padang (the capital of West Sumatra) to Siberut. It was the time of his life, his childhood dream of becoming an “Indiana Jones” came true and above it all, he found himself.

During his time there, his research won the “Man and Biosphere Award” from UNESCO. He used the prize money to set up an NGO called Pasih (Perkumpulan Siberut Hijau). The NGO was consisting of mostly native Mentawaian because my husband believe that to empower Mentawaian people, it has to be by the Mentawaian themselves. They had a great time and job when he led the organization, because he was a compassionate and committed leader who are excellent at handling interpersonal matters. Most importantly, he was open and honest to his members about everything related to the organization, including his own salary which was considerably little. This situation made everyone comfortable to work with each other and no one was having the feeling that someone else was taking advantage of their work.

You know, this was one of the reason why I love my husband so much. He is sincere, transparent and without internal contradiction. He is an incredibly generous person who does everything from his heart. I know a lot of people who try to do the same thing, such as advocating for local cause or joining local people’s struggle, but what they did – although it looked the same – was absolutely different because these people have hidden agenda. They will take the credit and feel good about themselves, telling the whole world about their “heroic” endeavours and expecting some sort of respect and admiration. They went on advancing their career or degree, but when the situation of the local people that they’re trying to “help” got rough and too hard to handle, they leave. They’re nowhere to give their all. Not to mention that they did not apply the same “heroic” principles for things they won’t get credit for.

My husband is different. He will never leave Mentawai for the rest of his life. At least he will come once in a while, and the people will always welcome him. He still keep in touch through direct calls and the “siripok” relations is for life. It doesn’t mean that things never get tough for him. Once in a time he experienced not having any job at all, nor salary, but he stayed. And guess what he did? He farm, just the way local Mentawaians do. It was really physical and difficult but he got some muscles from the hard work opening a farm and those “unintended consequences” are really nice to hug or wrap my body around.

After almost a decade in Mentawai, finally my husband applied for scholarships. His thick book (reviewed above – derived from decades of fieldnotes acquired from his long time living in Mentawai) made him an extremely interesting candidate. He was initially very “smitten” with Tania Li, an anthropologist at Toronto University,  who always read and commented on his articles. Unfortunately there’s no funding available. Instead he went for a PhD under the supervision of Gerard Persoon, another expert of Mentawai at Leiden University who secured him the Louwes fund. He also got master scholarships from USAID and AUSAID. His supervisor thought it would be good for him to get more exposure to English language as well as getting a master in anthropology to make the “bridging” from his biology background more swift. Although he’s very keen to study in US, the USAID scholarship only allowed him to take master degree in Environmental Science or other technical studies. AUSAID is more flexible. The let him study Anthropology, and Gerard advised him to study under the supervision of his friend, Carol Warren at Murdoch University, Western Australia.

Long story short, he’s now revising his master thesis and will continue his PhD at Leiden when we go together to the Netherlands this year. I can’t believe that our departure is just around the corner!


Why Indonesia’s Farmers Are Getting Younger?

(This is my publication at Farming First)

Our guest author, Nadya Karimasari, a researcher at Land Research Action Network opens our brand new blogging series that shines a spotlight on young people’s views and recommendations on sustainable agricultural development. This series is part of an ongoing partnership between Farming First and Young Professionals for Agricultural Development.

Discussions on the role of youth in agriculture tend to be oversimplified into agriculture being unattractive.

This is problematic for three reasons. First, it lumps youth together, as if they were all coming from similar contexts, overlooking the youth that are apparently attracted or already engaged in agriculture. Second, it does not sufficiently define what “farming” or “being involved in agriculture” entails, as the problem might not be the agricultural sector itself, but the types of involvement are available for youth. Third, it assumes youth will opt out for a lifetime, dismissing the flexible and multiple ways youth could be engaged.

A different set of questions could tell a completely different story. In Indonesia, for example, concerns over the ongoing trends of youth leaving agriculture have been challenged by an apparent increase in reversed youth migration from urban to rural areas. What is luring these young people away from the cities, and back to farms?

Upward social mobility

Research conducted by AKATIGA (2014) found that the possibility for upward social mobility is crucial to entice youth into agriculture.  They are not simply attracted or not attracted to the sector, it depends on the social context they come from and what kind of involvement they are being offered. Is it farm-labour? Semi-labour with other sources of income? Or would they be the owner of farm?

One young person interviewed by AKATIGA commented: “If you asked young farmers who have or would inherit land, of course agriculture is a bright prospect for them. But there is no future in agriculture for young people like me who have no land nor inheritance.”

Marginal land, arable land, and independence

In the sandy coastal area of Kulon Progo, Yogyakarta, youth are increasingly coming back to agriculture. The main reason has been the overwhelmingly high yields of chilli and watermelon and the subsequent high farmer income, in contrast to the precariousness of the labour market in urban areas.

The marginality of land enabled landless people, including youth, to get their own plots, fulfilling the desire for upward social mobility as mentioned above. From labouring for someone else, or worse still in precarious employment in the city, they are becoming self-employed and have more control over their livelihood.

This feeling of independence is also enhanced by the inputs and technologies used on the farm, with these young farmers preferring simple, self-made technologies, seed-sharing mechanisms and organic fertilizers.

Photo credit: Paguyuban Petani Lahan Pantai, Kulon Progo

Photo credit: Paguyuban Petani Lahan Pantai, Kulon Progo

Strong organization, good control of market 

Good production alone is not sufficient, as it could be overshadowed by failure in the market. To conquer the market, through their own local grassroots organization, these farmers manage the timing and period of planting in order to gain sustainable harvest throughout the year. This way, the tendency to overproduce during high season that makes price very low can be avoided.

They also keep the price high through farmers auction. Conventional ways of selling through “tengkulak” or middle men was proven to result in very low price for their produce, favouring the profit for the middleman. Instead, these farmers organize auction events, where the buyers must put their bid inside an envelope, and those who offer the highest price could buy the produce. These farmer organizations allow the farmers to “raise each other up” by getting the best price guaranteed for their produce.

Organization is key for farmers to gain more control over their livelihood. Its networks can provide information on potential land for farming and assist farm set-up. It also supplies better peer-to-peer information on what crops most suitable to be planted, where to get inputs, what type of supporting technology is most appropriate and affordable, and howto make the best out of their activities.

If the rest of the world can follow Indonesia’s example, perhaps many more youth would see farming as a viable career. By promising upward social mobility, high yields on good land and strong access to market through effective organisations, perhaps farming would not be seen as such an “ugly” profession after all.