Fighting for ecological justice

Putro Santoso Kurniawan, Dedication of Former Activists to Organic Farming for the Sake of Healthy Life

Every morning, Putro Santoso Kurniawan or Putro (43), rides his two-wheeler to his farm for 30 minutes from his residence. The farm lies in Ciareteun Ilir village, Cibungbulan Sub-District, Bogor Regency, West Java. He is been doing that for the last 15 years.

Putro is a successful farmer with 1.3 hectares of land and employs four persons. He filled his farm with various vegetables such as spinach, kale, choy sum, okra, and several other types of vegetables. He planted half alf of the land with organic crops. Putro and his team took adequate portions of the yield for themselves. However, they sold most of the products. Some products go to supermarkets through suppliers, and others to conventional markets through retailers.

Although he graduated from the Department of Marine Science and Technology of the Faculty of Fisheries, IPB (Bogor Agriculture Institute), Putro enjoys his day as a farmer. For him, encouraging farmers is as much important as being a farmer.

Putro admitted that it never crossed his mind to become a farmer. Since he was young and still in college, Putro has spent much time working in non-governmental organisations. He has spent many years working on coastal and marine issues, such as at Jaring Pela (Indonesia Coastal and Marine Activists Network), the WWF Marine program and the Coral 2000 project works for coral monitoring in Bali coasts. Eventually, he had his organisation, Palung, which worked with the Kehati Foundation in the Thousand Islands.

“I was very young, strong and brave. I WAS,” Putro said with a laugh.

Putro Santoso Kurniawan, member of Kaoem Telapak

The Beginning of Farming

Putro started to buy his farmland until he got 1,3 Hectares in 2013. With a massive land size and his experience as a manager of the Pusdiklat in the Indonesian Farmers Union (SPI), Putro is confident in choosing a profession as a farmer.

50% of the arable land area is certified organic cropland in collaboration with IPB ADS (Agribusiness Development Station).

“IPB ADS program helps farmers to get organic certification per the land quota, products, and adjusting to market needs,” explained Putro.

“The land for this program is not extensive because increasing the land area will increase the certification cost. Besides that, the quality of products and packaging must also be under the specified standards,” he continued.

Knowledge Constraints and Transfers

Starting with compounding 2,000 m2 of farmland in Tapos in 2004, Putro and an activist friend named Titis began life as farmers. Not long after, they began to actively discuss with the Indonesian Farmers Union (SPI) and participate in the Education for Farmers, family-based Sustainable Agriculture held by SPI in the same year.

Afterwards, Putro and his friend rented agricultural land near the IPB campus and pioneered the SPI education centre. In 2006, Putro began to repay to buy its agrarian land until now. It has reached 1 hectare. By renting 0.3 hectares from other farmers, the total land currently managed is 1.3 ha. At present, People can acknowledge that Putro has become a successful farmer. Of the total land area, 50% have received organic certificates, the result of collaboration with ADS (Agribusiness Development Station) IPB, a business unit under the Science and Technopark Unit of IPB.

“We supply our organic product to IPB ADS. Then the ADS will distribute it to supermarkets,” said Putro. He also distributes his product to many shops near his farm.

Although it must undergo various procedures, the products offered to the market also produce high prices.

Constraints and Knowledge Transfers

The public’s interest in healthy and chemical-free food is currently increasing. For farmers, the prices generated from organic crops also answer the need for their welfare, but certified land is still less extensive to answer the challenge.

Putro and 15 farmers in his village are building production groups. They hold monthly meetings with various agendas. For example, they are dividing farmers to plant certain types, product quality and sound processing, making organic fertilisers, harvest quotas and discussing the opportunity of new markets.

“One farmer can produce 30 kg of organic vegetables within a day. Sometimes, some types of vegetables are unavailable due to a lack of land or crop failure. Another time, all types of vegetables boomed, so this group should apply a queueing system to give all the farmers a similar chance to sell their harvest to suppliers,” Putro explained.

From suppliers, they will channel the products to supermarkets. Although the income is promising, Putro felt something needed to improve more in this system, making it hard for farmers to communicate directly with consumers.

“I want to communicate with consumers directly, so there will be discussions, enlightenments and transfer of knowledge about organic vegetables between farmers and consumers. This way, both sides will respect each other where the farmers will get the award for their efforts, and consumers gain knowledge on healthy food sources,” Putro added.

Years ago, Putro had tried a couple of activities to make it happen. He went door to door and up to organise a partnership with the local PKK (Family Welfare Empowerment) Program. Unfortunately, such experiments are not efficient for farmers.

In his opinion, supermarkets are still not ideal for marketing organic products because communication between producers and consumers still needs to occur. “If the farmers’ products have a special forum, there would be knowledge sharing, interaction, and a benchmark price that can increase the farmer’s value but does not entrap consumers. It would be ideal.”

According to Putro, the presence of third parties who can organise and become a means of knowledge sharing is crucial so that farmers can concentrate more on producing quality products and consumers have a better knowledge of food consumption. Direct relations between farmers and consumers also have the opportunity to improve the welfare of farmers because they no longer depend on intermediaries. If there is a third party like this, Putro said he would be able to focus on preparing the diversification of his agricultural products. “There is a merchant ship, there is a warship,” said Putro.

Part of the Kaoem Telapak Movement

President of the Kaoem Telapak Association, Zainuri Hasyim, stated that he is proud of Putro’s achievements. As one of the association members, Putro has been working on things that align with the organisation’s goals.

“Because this organisation exists to create the sovereignty, independence and dignity of Indonesia’s farmers, fishers and indigenous peoples,” Zainuri said.