Indonesian farmers grow organic rice successfully | Asia Pacific

Indonesian farmers grow organic rice successfully

Indonesian farmers grow organic rice successfully

Updated 11 April 2013, 22:08 AEST

Farmers in West Java, Indonesia, have developed some extraordinarily successful techniques for rice production.

Led by a young Australian-educated entrepreneur the farmers are growing organic rice on what had been very poor land and are now exporting it across the globe.

Correspondent: Amy Bainbridge

Speakers: Saeful Bahri, farmer; Eda Trisnati, farm worker; Emily Sutanto, entrepreneur

BAINBRIDGE: In this region, more than two 2,300 farmers are growing organic rice.

Farmer Saeful Bahri leads the group. He first started investigating how to grow organic rice a decade ago.

SAEFUL BAHRI (translated): The land was not healthy, it had too many chemicals and was ruined, so that's why we studied how to grow organic rice.

BAINBRIDGE: The rice is grown using what's called a "System of Rice Intensification" or SRI. It's a farming method developed about 30 years ago in Madagascar. It uses less water because the rice fields aren't flood irrigated, and about half the amount of seed used in conventional farming.

Saeful Bahri says yields are up about 20 per cent - one hectare of land produces seven tonnes of rice per season. He says the rice needs a lot of fertilizer and they use what's available locally, like cow manure.

SAEFUL BAHRI (translated): We taught ourselves how to do it. After we succeeded, a lot of people came here to teach us additional skills.

BAINBRIDGE: There are several varieties of organic rice processed here, in a small factory just a hundred metres from the rice paddies. Women sort pink rice by hand. One of the employees is Eda Trisnati.

EDA TRISNAWATI (translated): Yes, we are all ordinary housewives from the villages. We started working about three years ago. It's additional income for us and our families.

BAINBRIDGE: The rice is measured out by hand and then weighed using a small set of digital scales. It's then vacuum sealed and packaged for export to the US, Germany, the Netherlands, Singapore and Malaysia. Even the packaging itself is woven locally, by hand.

About half of the rice produced in Tasikmalaya goes to local families, 30 per cent is exported and the rest is sold within Indonesia. But it's been a journey to get to this point.

Emily Sutanto studied international business in Australia. She was still living overseas when she heard the farmers in Tasikmalaya growing organic rice had no market to sell it to.

SUTANTO: It was a lot of risk, because first of all, organic certification, especially the international standard, it didn't really exist in Indonesia. Even the local standard for organic, it was still a mess in the Department of Agriculture, so there was no real organic standard in Indonesia yet. So getting the certification itself was already a big challenge.

BAINBRIDGE: It took Emily Sutanto two years to negotiate Indonesia's first rice exporting license.

The first export of organic rice was in August 2009.

Saeful Bahri says the farmers now earn about double what they would for growing conventional rice.

SAEFUL BAHRI (translated): We were concerned originally because the price we were getting for our organic rice was not very good, and we found out from the TV and media that organic produce is quite expensive, so we met up with Emily and we were happy because Emily was able to fight for us and she really cared about the organic industry, so she hooked us up with the exporters internationally so we were able to get a better price.

BAINBRIDGE: Emily Sutanto is exploring more markets and with demand outstripping supply, the future looks bright for Indonesia's organic rice.

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