Fellow Since 1998
This description of P. Sarijo's work was prepared when P. Sarijo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1998.
Sarijo has developed profitable, ecologically sound farming techniques as alternatives to the Indonesian government's "miracle rice" programme. In spreading these techniques to many of Indonesia's farming communities, he is not only reducing the pollution levels that are so damaging to the land, but also helping stave off the eradication of a traditional rural culture.
The New Idea
Sarijo has developed a crop production and marketing scheme that challenges government policy in practical terms. After years of experimentation, Sarijo has refined and proven effective new strategies in organic farming. His scheme uses traditional varieties of rice and natural, low cost fertilizers. His methods are sustainable due to their economic viability, their ecological friendliness and the degree of empowerment the farmers achieve by regaining control of production methods. In addition, he is fostering independence of farmers who now have an alternative to the government policy that requires expensive inputs and mandates produce to be placed in a fixed price market yielding low profits.
Since the early 1970s, the New Order government embraced the idea of the cultivation of the new "miracle" rice varieties without due consideration for its effects on the rural people and environment. The Green Revolution policy was pursued headlong in order to reach two major objectives: a political goal of rice production self-sufficiency, and a goal of feeding the masses, especially the growing urban workforce (also a result of government policy to rapidly grow light industry). This resulted in serious economic, ecological and cultural problems for the farmers of the nation.Rice self-sufficiency was proclaimed in 1984 and the new production methods initially achieved very high production figures during the period 1985-1990, but there have been steady production decreases since 1991-2. Economic problems farmers now have to fund expensive inputs to maintain the new rice varieties: they must buy new hybrid seeds each planting season instead of replanting seeds from the harvest, and they must use expensive pesticides and fertilizers (supplied by monopoly conglomerates which are often owned by Soeharto's family).many small farmers have fallen into debt and subsequently lost their land under this system from taking out loans to supply the inputs. The net income from the harvest is diminished with each crop cycle because of the expenses of inputs.low productivity - the new farming methods have been destructive to the soil and are producing lower yields than at first (see ecology below).authorities at village level have had to enforce certain production levels set by the central government, so farmers have been "persuaded" (tricked, forced) to plant the new varieties while at the same time they have been denied market prices as there has been official price fixing on the rice crop, so that the urban population can afford this staple food.Ecological problems the production and use of natural fertilizers and pesticides has decreased dramatically due to the use of imported chemical products.Fertilizers and pesticides are having a detrimental effect on the soil -- mosses, small insects and microbes that existed together to enrich the soils have been killed off. Also, what was once a balanced ecosystem, where eels and owls acted as natural pesticides (while providing additional food supplies) has been disrupted, thereby creating more of a need for chemical pesticides.Cultural effectsthe new system has been accompanied by rigid top-down regulations, e.g. varieties are specified, planting times are made uniform throughout wide areas and processes are marked off on a calendar for the whole year (3 crops per year). It all comes in a "packet", and allows no local decision-making. This has destroyed the existing socio-cultural knowledge and customs, in which planting times were adjusted to seasons, local environment, wind/rain/moon patterns, all of which were decided by the people themselves and in accordance to ritual and custom. Farmers have been made dependent on a system that allows for no analysis of environmental conditions and decision making on the part of the farmers.ceremonies linked the rice cycle - planting and harvesting - have been made outdated. the gotong-royong (mutual self-help) community systems for storing seed, and producing compost for fertilizer have been lost.women's traditional roles have been diminished as there are different growing and harvesting methods needed for the new rice.
Sarijo, who followed in his father's footsteps and is a farmer himself, is acutely aware of the problems created by the Green Revolution. With these difficulties in mind, in 1992 he created a discussion group among farmers in his area, with the idea to try agricultural alternatives. As a result of the government's (only recently eased) strict dictation of agricultural policies, only Sarijo was willing to experiment in earnest. From 1992-3 he worked on his father's 1600 square meter plot to plant "rajolele", a high quality local rice species. He faced both criticism and encouragement: he was called by the village leader and disciplined, but also he was given helpful advice by some of the older farmers. For two seasons he failed to produce a yield comparable to the government variety, but achieved success at the beginning of the third year. Having learnt much along the way, Sarijo made adaptations, such as the use of local animal fertilizers (which enriched the topsoil that had been devastated by the modern farming methods) and alternating varieties of rice planted. The green revolution varieties at present get 66 kwintal/hectare/harvest in his area and the farmers are now getting 75 kwintal/hectare/harvest (and still rising) with the rajolele and other local species. Even given that the government hybrid species give 3 crops per year to the 2 crops of the old local species, the results are good, especially as many of the local species have much higher prices in the market place. Less volume but greater profits.During this process, in 1992 Sarijo established his organisation LESMAN : Yayasan Tani Lestari Mandiri (Foundation for Farming, Conservation and Self-Sufficiency). This organisation now has 18 farmer groups in 8 districts, and 795 members; and Sarijo has attracted 2 agricultural experts and a number of elders to work closely with him. LESMAN's aim is educative, through the establishment of farmer groups and demonstration plots. The spread strategy begins with the formation of farmer groups to meet for regular discussions. In these meetings, participants talk about problems they are having with their crops as well as what they want to achieve. LESMAN staff guide the groups and together they develop demonstration plots that use the local strains of rice suitable for the area in accordance with local production facilities. Everyone learns and experiments, with the aim of farming that is environmentally sound and promotes self-sufficiency and local independence. Through working with groups of farmers, Sarijo's organisation teaches how to incorporate traditional techniques and seed varieties into a production method specifically appropriate to their land. Sarijo has implemented a traditional approach to planning with the farmer groups. There are 3 steps: omong konco -- talk about friends - identification of potentials such as earth, water, existing plants and animals and other farmers, omong bongso -- talk of needs - consider the balance needed between production and consumption, and "angon mongso" -- consideration of timing - in relation to the natural environment and cultural traditions. This process of thinking and planning results in agricultural practices that integrate social, cultural, economic and technological pursuits and are thus sustainable. It promotes the use of local resources, with appropriate local fertilizers and pesticides, which fit local customs and suitable consumption patterns. In addition, while developing the problem-solving and organisational capacities of the farmers groups, he is spreading a method that can achieve diversification of agricultural products - e.g., not just other crops but also the revival of the home industry method of producing cooking oil.Another strategy used with the farmer groups is their formation into a network. There is interaction between farmers, both within groups and between groups to share knowledge and successful practices (such as about seed varieties). And, on the demand side of the equation, Sarijo has set up a consumer network to further lessen farmers' dependence on the government controlled market. Sarijo is aware that there needs to be attention at policy level too and he is participating with others in his network to effect farming policy changes that guarantee farmers freedom of choice. The new government has already issued a top-down decree that farmers now should rotate rice/soy/corn crops. Sarijo is planning in January to go with a group from the agriculture institute in Bogor to speak to the new Minister of Agriculture.
Sarijo chose to enter an agricultural high school after seeing his father's small farm fail as a result of the government imposed rice farming methods. After completing his studies, Sarijo worked at a privately run garlic enterprise. His job was to pick the best seeds, which in turn were sold to farmers (like his father) at a hefty profit. His insider's perspective of the business made it clear that the farmers were in a no-win situation-- encouraged to buy seeds at a high price and then having little option but to sell their crops to the company at low prices. Sarijo decided to leave his high-paying job and put his knowledge to work to help farmers. His insights into the commercial world made him determined to create an agricultural system in which the farmers would be in control of their own production and distribution.He still lives in his home village with his wife and three children. His wife and parents often accuse him of caring more for the farmers than for his own family, as he uses his family's own modest income for his organisation's expenses and spends a lot of time in meetings and traveling to groups outside his own village, but they are also proud of his successes and the recognition he has received.