Organic farming comes to Batam

The Jakarta Post, Features – October 30, 2007

Warief Djajanto Basorie, Contributor, Batam

Rusmin, 36, quickly counted off all the positives. “It grows well. The growth time is much faster. And it tastes sweet.”

Standing between his modest house made of thin triplex board normally used for home ceilings, and his 1,000 square meter spread behind him, the dark-skinned wiry farmer explained how his crops fared after using compost.

Rusmin and four other farmers on Batam island are part of a trial project in the use of the compost, organic fertilizer made from land waste.

Batam is known as a growing free trade zone with 25 industrial parks on the island, the largest being Batamindo Park at more than 400 hectares. It wants to become a manufacturing and service hub to eventually rival its more sophisticated northern neighbor.

Batam, an island city in the Riau islands group, is only a 40-minute ferry trip from Singapore to the north.

The island, however, is less known for its pockets of farmland, such as in Sei Temiang in north-central Batam.

The Batam Authority that manages the unused level field opened it for organic test farming, assigning parcels to Rusmin and his fellow farmers to develop three fast-growing garden vegetables — timun (cucumber), sawi (mustard greens) and kacang panjang (string beans). String beans take two months to mature, cucumber 40 days and mustard greens only 27 days.

The regional office of the Technology Assessment and Application Agency (BPPT) provided the seeds and the technical know-how to produce the compost and raise the crops.

Organic farming does not use synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or livestock feed additives. Organic farmers rely on crop rotation, crop residues and animal manure to maintain soil productivity.

According to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia, approximately 31 million hectares of farmland worldwide are now cultivated organically.

“The sawi and timun tasted sweet when we harvest them,” Rusmin said.

That first crop, harvested in September, sold out quickly when buyers learned they tasted better. The selling price was the going local market rate of Rp 2,000 per kilogram for sawi, Rp 7,000 for the timun and Rp 8,000 for the kacang panjang.

Rusmin, who has lived in Batam for six years and is originally from Purbalingga in Central Java, said he could not get higher prices for his crops as the venture is still new.

The price can drop to Rp 520 a kilogram for sawi if outside growers flood the market. The price can also soar to Rp 6,000 in times of scarcity, he said.

A second planting has started after the Muslim fasting month in October. In the meantime, Rusmin has planted kangkung jari, a local spinach, on his assigned lot. It will mature in 20 days, says the farmer who lives with his wife and 9-year-old son.

He said he had not encountered any pest problems. No rats or plant diseases. Piped-in water comes from a 60-by-5 meter rain-fed reservoir 200 meters away.

An official at the Batam city agricultural office said the organic farming experiment will run for three harvests for the three specified crops.

Requesting anonymity as he is not authorized to speak about the project, he would not say what would happen after the third harvest. But a large blue-roofed building is under construction at the entrance of the test site off the main road.

Questioned about the building, he replied it was for the packaging of agricultural produce not only from within but also from outside Batam. It is not yet in operation as cold storage units are not yet installed, he said.

A high ceilinged shed without walls next to the designated packaging house is where the farmers make and store their compost. Bu Fauziah, wife of farmer Samsuddin, explained how the compost is made.

One ton of assorted plant residue like hay and grass is collected from surrounding areas. The plant waste is cut into small pieces and mixed with three kilograms of biodek powder, a bioactivator that speeds up the composting process. The waste is stacked in six layers.

The entire stack is at least one meter high. The waste pile is covered with a black plastic sheet to maintain moisture. If necessary, water can be sprayed over the waste. Every week the sheet is opened to flip over the layers. The compost is ready after one month of incubation. The organic fertilizer is dark brown to black in color like shreds of loose tobacco. It is odorless.

According to a 2004 paper on organic farming in Indonesia by Riza Tjahjadi, Indonesia has 17 million hectares of idle land that could be used for organic farming. The country has a land area of 192 million hectares of which 29 million hectares is arable land for food production.

A supermarket owner believes 15 million Indonesians consume organic food, the daily newspaper Bisnis Indonesia reported in a Dec. 21, 2004, article. Given the public demand for organic food, the Agriculture Ministry has an ambitious program, Go Organic 2010. The aim is for Indonesia to become a major organic food producer by 2010.


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