Posted in Academia

My baby prepared me for a PhD

The seemingly daunting combination of an intense PhD programme and taking care of a baby doesn’t terrify blogger Nadya Karimasari. Instead, having a baby has unintentionally prepared her for her PhD research.

Before the NWO scholarship interview, I practiced several mock-interviews with my husband. One of his main question was how to balance the PhD programme with motherhood. To our surprise, during the “real” interview that question didn’t appear. This simple gesture was quite a telling moment evidently showing that the interviewers did not perceive motherhood as a major hindrance in pursuing a PhD.

Perhaps it has to do with the Netherlands being the best country for children’s well-being, according to UNICEF. Combining a PhD trajectory with motherhood might be more common than I’d thought. My former lecturer at ISS Den Haag, Ben White, who became a dear friend and mentor, mentioned a colleague who was always highly productive and consistently publishing books during her pregnancy and maternity leave.

I similarly feel that having a baby, instead of restricting me, has prepared me for my PhD. Firstly, my time management skills have improved a lot. I have become a morning person, thanks to my son who always wakes up at 6 a.m. or earlier. My husband and I share the responsibility of caring, yet still the time I can allocate exclusively to research is limited. I cannot afford to wallow in endless whirlwind of self-doubt that paralyzes my writing flow. I better be strict and quickly brain-dump (a.k.a. write) my thoughts on paper. Forget about perfection, it could always be revised later.

Secondly, baby-caring is such a humbling experience. My son is always a step ahead. For example, when I finally got the gist of making puree, he was no longer interested. He had by now decided that he preferred to feed himself with finger foods. He made me aware that I need to be constantly open-minded, flexible, and adaptive. Like research, not everything can be planned ahead. I always have to be prepared to improvise.

Thirdly, a PhD could be a stressful experience, but my son has been uncompromisingly reminding me to have regular cuddle time to lower our cortisol levels. It is essential for my endurance, puts things into perspective, it’s restorative and fun. Thank you son, for being a generally happy baby and allowing your mom to make the best of herself.

Posted in Academia

PhD, mom and blogger

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At Resource we have a new blogger: Nadya Karimasari. In her first blog she introduces herself.

Since my supervisor, prof.dr. Bram Buscher, contacted me via Skype in November 2015 and said ‘Welcome to Wageningen!’, my life has been in a state of eternal euphoria. My excitement multiplied when Resource asked me to join the team of bloggers. Talking about (double)-dreams come true!

My name is Nadya Karimasari from Indonesia. I got a PhD scholarship from NWO to study nature conservation in times of crisis, starting March 2016. I am the first person and first generation in my extended family who got a scholarship to do PhD abroad. I am also a first-time mom of my one-year-old son.

I did my master in 2010-2011 at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS), Den Haag. Thanks to the encouragement that I’ve got from my master’s supervisor and lecturers (especially prof.dr. Jun Borras and prof. Ben White), I changed my career path from activism to academia, with opportunities to do independent research consultancies. I also volunteer at the national farmers union as an interpreter. I spent two years in Australia when I was pregnant and a stay-at-home-mom until my son was one year old. During this time, I worked from home translating Tania Li‘s “Land’s End” to bahasa Indonesia, to be published by Marjin Kiri, while also supporting my husband to complete his theses writing with dr. Carol Warren.

I have been blogging since high school, more than a decade ago, since the very first time blogging platforms were introduced. I feel the need to now blog about my PhD odyssey. Why? Two perspectives. First, if you’re Dutch (or Canadian, for example), perhaps you’re already familiar with the realm of a PhD student. But for someone like me a PhD is such a peculiar thing! I used to think of PhDs as elderly people who already have a lot of expertise in their field and were expected to be the next Einstein or someone of that calibre. I’ve never aspired to pursue a PhD because I don’t have any immediate reference to look up to. Imagine how surprised I was at ISS to witness a lot of young people at their early twenties already doing a doctoral degree! Second, I observe other PhD blogs are mostly skewed into two polar extremes, either the self-deprecating PhDs beating themselves up or those who only showcase their academic brilliance. I would like to challenge myself to capture the regular life of a non-know-it-all PhD student.

After all, it’s a process, a journey, and I hope you enjoy the ride with me.

Posted in Academia

Welcome!

That’s me, my husband, and our son. I am going to start my PhD this year at Wageningen University (with a very prestigious 5 years funding from NWO); while he has completed data collection and ready to write his dissertation at Leiden University. We are very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to do our PhD together in the Netherlands, the best country in the world for child’s well-being!

This blog is to document our journey, the process we’re going through while trying to figure out life as a PhD couple with a toddler in foreign country. Both of us are doing ethnography and (coincidentally) share similar topic of interest. The scope of this blog will not be limited to our study topics. It will also be about our adventure!

If you knew me in person, you would notice that daydreaming is my middle name. The same thing could be expected on this blog: daydream, conversation and musings. My daydreaming consists of non-linear thought processes which sometimes result in quick think pieces (and my absent-mindedness). The conversation that I have would be random, most of the times with other-than-human living species such as articles, books, and reports. In parallel to that, my inner muse can’t resist to reclaim her space to reflect about life in general. Additionally, I’ll post pics of beautiful scenery of the quiet rural area where we’re living + the forest where we’ll do fieldwork next year.

Welcome, hope you enjoy! Looking forward to hear from you!

Featured photo taken by Abdil Mughis at King’s Park, Perth, Western Australia.

 

Posted in Publication

Cycle of Nutrition in Siberut*

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“I often wonder how biscuits are made. I know how to make other food. In fact, all food that we eat, we make it with our own hand. That’s how it is here. But, these biscuits puzzled me, I have no idea how to make one,” said Teu Taloy.

We’d recently visited Teu Taloy at his hamlet in Ugai, Siberut, Indonesia, during Christmas and New Year festivity. Our morning routine includes sitting together in front of uma, the traditional house, while eating biscuits with a cup of tea. As common as it may be, situated in context, this morning routine is a special moment. In mountainous Ugai, biscuit is a privilege. It signifies special occasion. Industrial food that needs to be purchased is unlikely to be seen in other time of the year, as people here self-provided their daily food.

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on our way to ugai

In this remote island best known for its internationally acclaimed surfing spots, pristine nature, rich biodiversity, and the “authenticity” of the “indigenous” people, locals eat sagoo, yam, sweet potato, and banana that are abundant and cultivated in their own family-farm. They also eat self-reared chicken and pig. Sometimes they caught fishes from the shore and shrimp from the river. Nature also provide them with endless fruit supply during each fruit season, such as mango, rambutan, durian, langsat, and cempedak.

Although Siberut is a remote area, the native Mentawaian people are proud that there’s no lacking of food. Family farming is the key to self-sufficiency of food and nutrition for most Mentawaian. But, it is not just family farming. It is family farming with essential elements not to be left out.

The first key element is the availability of huge land for food cultivation. Unlike other overpopulated areas in Indonesia, Siberut provide more than sufficient land for family farming. On average, each person in Siberut benefitted from 9 km square of land. No wonder, there is no need for food storage because sagoo and yam are abundant and can be collected at any time from the land. Food that is consumed directly from nature with less processing, or perhaps what is known as “organic food” in other places, are providing higher nutrition than highly processed food.

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making sagoo

Second, they consume staple food that is suited to Siberut ecological landscape. Most land for cultivation in Siberut are swamp areas. Sagoo, the staple food for Mentawaian, is perfect to be grown in this type of landscape. It does not need special treatment. 15-20% of land in Siberut is utilised to grow sagoo. One sagoo tree around 6-9 years could produce 300-400 kg sagoo and feed one family for 60-90 days. Sagoo contains high level of carbohydrate and protein with low fat. It can be stored as long as possible, hence one sagoo tree can be processed altogether at once and the production could be directly consumed for 2-3 months, reducing the need of labour to process the food at each serving time. Sagoo can be used for human as well as cattle consumption, and all parts of sagoo tree is useful, not only for food, but also for making rooftop, etc. No wonder, in Mentawaian mythology, sagoo is the most important plant and it also has social function as an item for paying dowries or gifts.

Third, food security is closely linked with the custom of how family is rooted in their homeland and organized with consideration to their mode of production. The basis for primary food production is nucleus family farming, consisted of one father, one mother, and 3-9 children. Their farm depended on the labour of family members. For subsistence purpose, there is an ethic of food sharing in between members of extended family. It is common and allowed to grab food from the yard of their extended family, as long as it is for their own consumption.

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sea protein

The situation is different for family farms in other parts of Indonesia, who could not sustain from their land, migrate to other places, have difficulties in obtaining land, become farm labour and not having the social protection of an extended family network. In Siberut, on average, food production is more than sufficient for subsistence consumption. Hence, Mentawaian in general does not farm intensively and this could free their labour to collect fish or shrimp for additional nutrition.

Fourth, family farming does not mean that they are not engaged with the market. Since the seventies they have already combined commercial and food crops in their cultivation. But, engaging in market is not an imperative for family farm. Their farm for daily food provision such as sagoo and yam are distinct from the area for hard-crops or pumonean. Hence cash crop does not interfere with the area of staple food crops. Yet, usually for additional new farm, after the male open a farm, the female would plant banana and yam. Only after harvesting staple food crops would they cultivate fruit crops or commercial crops on that land. They also consider the combination of temporal and spatial factors when deciding which plant to cultivate.

Looking through their lenses, Mentawaian family farming guaranteed sufficient nutrition for the people. Nevertheless, it is problematic for the mainstream way of thinking that calculates nutritional sufficiency based on one food serving unit. Other significant factor such as food sovereignty, etc are not being included in this calculation.

In Siberut, you would not find one serving unit of food containing carbohydrate, vegetable, animal protein, and fruits. But it hardly means Mentawaian are lacking in nutrition. Mentawaian fulfill their nutrition intake in the basis of an agricultural cycle. For example, they regularly eat fruits during fruit season, as the fruits are abundant at its peak. During social festivities, they will hunt pigs or slaughter their self-reared pigs and share it with the extended family, making every member gets their animal protein necessities fulfilled. On a daily basis, they eat sagoo, yam and banana for energy.

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extended family at uma

Being incongruent with the mainstream thinking of nutritional fulfillment brings real consequences to Mentawaian. The government who tried to adapt them into the “proper” way of fulfilling nutrition has been doing intervention to uproot them into resettlement areas. It creates dispute in land entitlement between Mentawaian groups and it also significantly reduce the frequency of people’s visit to their farm. In some cases, as the resettlement areas are limited in size, this program separates the extended family as they no longer live closely to each other. It divorced the people from one formative element of food security.

The government also obliged Mentawaian to choose a formal religion in Indonesia. This makes them further being uprooted from their traditional religion, forcing them to slowly abandon traditional rituals that are used to be the moment for them to share animal protein with extended family members. The government also preferred to provide rice than sagoo while the ecological landscape in Mentawai could not support self-sufficiency in rice. It could be concluded that the government perception in seeing the Mentawaian way of family farming and nutritional fulfillment is very much distant with how the Mentawaian operates.

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the experiment of planting wet rice on peat swamp

With regard to each different context, family farming is not to be romanticised. It can work to fulfill nutritional intake in certain situation, but not always. When it is equipped with basic essential elements such as land availability, self-sufficient provision of food that suits the ecological landscape, the way society is socially organised, and the “unimperativeness” of market in their mode of production, Mentawaian case is a living proof that family farming works wonders for nutritional fulfillment. Family farming would face difficult situation when the land is lacking, the crops are not sustainable, the community is uprooted and the market has become an imperative, making farmers have to sell their labour just in order to survive.

Another important point is how we view nutritional fulfillment. Instead of trying to understand the grounded way of how Mentawaian operates to fulfill their nutrition with regard to their social and ecological context, and instead of trying to convert the mainstream perception in calculating nutrition, the government insisted on converting the Mentawaian way into the “proper”, “valid”, and acceptable norm of nutritional fulfillment. This fact really left us wonder why the former is often more difficult to do.

*a creative collaboration with Darmanto ❤

Posted in Publication

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.