Why and how did farmers in Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta, participate in Jatropha projects?

By Gunawan

Quote: “Subsequently, some farmers immediately began cultivating it, using seeds of wild jatropha from their gardens or those distributed (….) When farmers could not sell the jatropha fruit they harvested, cultivation eventually halted. Despite this disappointing experience, optimism about jatropha remained so strong that many farmers kept the crop ‘hibernating’ in their fields in the hope that someday the demand for jatropha would rise.”

Government institutions and private companies promoted jatropha intensively to farmers in various regions in Indonesia. One of the main institutions involved was the Indonesian Agency for Agricultural Research and Development (Badan Penelitian dan Pengembangan Pertanian), whose 2007 assessment indicated that nearly 50 million hectares of land in Indonesia were suitable for the development of jatropha. This assessment, however, overlooked the social and cultural aspects of “suitability” because it did not consider ownership and current land use. Suitable land was located in various provinces in the following distribution (1):

Table 1

Suitable land area for jatropha cultivation in Indonesia
Island

Very suitable

(ha)

Suitable

(ha)

Less suitable

(ha)

Total amount

 (ha)

Sumatra

2,104,152

226,787

11,088,261

13,419,200

Java

1,855,947

1,244,134

946,635

4,046,716

Bali & Nusa Tenggara

653,190

1,313,255

470,905

2,437,350

Kalimantan

4,715,330

1,713,367

11,030,816

17,459,513

Sulawesi

2,392,101

163,356

1,703,806

4,259,263

Maluku & Papua

2,556,815

874,012

4,478,831

7,909,658

Indonesia

14,277,535

5,534,911

29,719,254

49,531,700

Source: Warta Penelitian dan Pengembangan Pertanian Vol. 30. No. 4 . 2008.

This top-down planning instrument stimulated a mushrooming of jatropha-related activities in the areas mentioned in Table 1, which would all require the collaboration of farmers to provide access to land and labor. How did farmers respond? Why and how did they participate in jatropha projects? My anthropological research aims at answering these questions in one of the targeted areas for jatropha projects in Java, namely, the district of Gunungkidul, in the province of Yogyakarta. There were two main actors who initiated jatropha projects here: a private enterprise and a government institution. The two cases show remarkable similarities in the responses of farmers.

In the case of the private enterprises, project activities began with the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the local government and the company interested in jatropha cultivation. Such an MoU specified the company’s responsibility to provide seeds for planting and wages for labor; the village government’s responsibility to organize the farmers and provide access to the land; and the farmers’ responsibility to cultivate the plants. As part of their cooperation, the company also pledged to buy the crop at a specified price.

Monthly farmer group meetings were effective events for socializing the jatropha program to the farmers.  Photo: Gunawan, Tepus, 14-01-2013.

Monthly farmer group meetings were effective events for socializing the jatropha program to the farmers. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus, 14-01-2013.

The second stage in the collaboration was “socialization,” a series of meetings in which the company’s staff would provide information to the farmers on both technical and organizational matters. During this stage, the company involved appointed one of the village government staff as the project coordinator responsible for implementing the program, organizing the farmers in planting jatropha, and acting as an intermediary between the company and the farmers. In line with jatropha development being associated with the effort to improve people’s welfare, the chosen coordinator was part of the village government’s community welfare staff. Although the coordinator indirectly became the company’s representative in the village, he was not employed by the company and did not receive a salary. He supported the project because if it became a success, it would improve the villagers’ welfare and contribute to his achievements as a member of the village government staff so his reputation to the villager would also increase.

The company’s strategy of involving a village government official as coordinator was effective for two reasons. First, it created the impression that the jatropha project was a government program, while, in fact, the company was in charge. Such association with the government increased the chances of farmers’ participation, because farmers in this area want to be involved in government programs. They hope and anticipate that a continuous series of such government programs will create a source of income in their village economy that they will be able to rely on. This attitude is based on their experience, because Gunungkidul has often been targeted for government-initiated social-assistance programs. For example, in 2009 there were at least 14 of these programs, which provided income and services for the local population (2). Jatropha projects could be regarded as another program in this ongoing series.

This sign board indicates one of the many projects conducted in the village to improve people's welfare: in this case building irrigation canals to improve agricultural production. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus 12-12-2013.

This sign board indicates one of the many projects conducted in the village to improve people’s welfare: in this case building irrigation canals to improve agricultural production. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus 12-12-2013.

The second advantage of having a village government staff member as project coordinator was that because he was well-known and respected by the farmers, he would be able to use a personal approach to organizing the farmers in the cultivation of the crop (in line with the tradition of patronage). This approach was likely to be effective for providing the company with access to land and labor, because farmers in Gunungkidul are inclined to follow the majority: if lots of farmers decide to plant a crop, then the others will do the same. This is due to the Javanese tradition of avoiding being called ora umum (one who does things differently) (3, 4). They also wanted to avoid seeing their neighbors profit, while they themselves were left behind.

This farmer participated in a project for planting trees (Jabon wood) . Despite doubts about the project's benefits farmers did what their cooperative wanted them to do. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus, 14-02-2013 .

This farmer participated in a project for planting trees (Jabon wood) . Despite doubts about the project’s benefits farmers did what their cooperative wanted them to do. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus, 14-02-2013 .

The third stage of collaboration was the actual cultivation. In this stage, the village coordinator suggested the farmers plant jatropha on lands not suitable for food crops. He also informed the farmers about the advantages of planting jatropha: the farmers could grow jatropha on the otherwise unproductive lands and receive wages from the company. The coordinator then promised to collect the harvested seeds and sell them to the company. Farmers interested in planting jatropha reported to the coordinator, and he calculated the amount of seeds required in accordance with the size of the farmers’ lands. Subsequently he sent a request to the company to provide seeds, and applied for incentives for planting on behalf of the farmers. Jatropha was then planted on the hill slopes, along with teak and acacia.

In addition to working with the village government, the private company also managed its own plantations. These plantations were located on land leased from the government and individuals, or bought from individuals. These plantations were tended by the company’s workers, who were not local inhabitants.

A Jatropha plantation on village property land managed by a private company. The plantation is in poor condition because the company had stopped operations. Photo: Gunawan,  Saptosari, 26-02-2012.

A jatropha plantation on village property land managed by a private company. The plantation is in poor condition because the company had stopped operations. Photo: Gunawan, Saptosari, 26-02-2012.

The second jatropha project to be examined here was initiated by a government institution, the Forestry and Plantation Services (DISHUTBUN, Dinas Kehutanan dan Perkebunan), in Purwodadi village. In 2006 there were 2,000 famers in the area involved in the planting of jatropha. At the time of my research, the Forestry and Plantation Service and the farmers actively engaged in activities such as socialization, seed distribution, land preparation and planting, as well as attending weekly meetings to discuss the program in general. In this area, this program was conducted together with the Universitas Pembangunan Nasional Research Center, which provided technical assistance for the processing of jatropha oil.

In this project, too, the coordinator was a representative of the village government, while the Forestry and Plantation Services divided farmers into groups and distributed seed, fertilizer and cash for planting and other cultivation activities. The farmers were divided into 34 farmers’ groups based on the location of their fields, with each group consisting of 40-50 members. Each member calculated the amount of seed he would need depending on the conditions of his land, and subsequently requested seeds from the group leader. The group leader submitted the combined seed request to the coordinator at the village level, who would forward it to the Forestry and Plantation Services officer. The main reason why this program appealed to the farmers was that they received a cash sum for pledging to plant the seeds. The size of such financial incentives depended on the amount of seed farmers requested: the more seed they requested, the larger the “incentive” they received.

Interviews with local farmers revealed their initial activities in the project: carrying the seedlings to their fields, digging holes in the rocky soil, planting the seedlings in these holes and attending farmers’ groups discussion meetings. The local government joined in the enthusiasm by frequently paying field visits, and by organizing dialogues, regular meeting, and training. It was therefore no surprise that farmers had high expectations of earning a significant income from jatropha. The implementation of the project was hindered by the poor condition of the roads. The seedlings  in poly bag were delivered to locations accessible by car, from which farmers had to carry them on foot to their designated fields. Ironically, because they had already received their “incentives” by the time they received the seedlings, some famers just threw the seedlings into the river or gorges when carrying them became too exhausting. There was no sanction in this project against such behavior.

Nevertheless, within a year, the farmers began to grow weary of jatropha. Contrary to their expectations, the jatropha trees did not bear fruit after the promised nine-month period. The trees did not grow well; many were infested with pests and diseases, and died. Farmers were perplexed when they compared their poorly-performing “high-yielding” varieties with the wild jatropha that grew well and bore fruit. Disappointed, they uprooted the trees planted near food crops while leaving other trees unattended.

There are several reasons why farmers in Gunungkidul kept some jatropha trees alive – albeit unattended. First, because they grew on land that was not used for any other purpose. Second, farmers still anticipated a future revival of the jatropha program. And third, owing to the fact that they perceived the jatropha projects to be government programs, farmers kept some trees alive in order to continue the “existence” of the program. Their argument was that continuing the project by maintaining some trees would facilitate their access to future government programs. The remaining jatropha trees were planted around the village’s main street, well in sight of any visitor, should there be a review from the government. Jatropha thus became a “hibernating crop” – abandoned and only tended when government institutions or companies provided the farmers with “incentives.” Ironically, the promotion of jatropha did not result in the development of jatropha cultivation, but in developing and confirming the farmers’ strategy of using government programs for generating income in the form of “incentives.”

Jatropha planted along the main road by farmers in Purwodadi to show their commitment to the government’s Jatropha cultivation program. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus, 16-12-2012.

Jatropha planted along the main road by farmers in Purwodadi to show their commitment to the government’s Jatropha cultivation program. Photo: Gunawan, Tepus, 16-12-2012.

In summary, the experiences in both jatropha projects indicated that farmers agreed to participate in the programs for three reasons. Firstly, because of an attitude of obedience to the village government, whose staff had been appointed as the jatropha project coordinators and intermediaries between the farmers and the company or Forestry Service. Secondly, because farmers tend to follow the actions of their communities and do not want to be regarded as different. Thirdly, because in this area farmers have become accustomed to earning part of their income from project incentives, for which they are eligible merely by pledging participation.

References

  1. Balai Besar Penelitian dan Pengembangan Sumber Daya Lahan Pertanian, Tersedia luas, lahan untuk pengembangan jarak pagar. Warta Penelitian dan Pengembangan Pertanian Vol. 30. No. 4 . Pg. 5-7 (2008). (Hall of the Research and Development of Agricultural Land Resources, “Land is Abundant to Jatropha Development”.  Agricultural Research and Development’s News, vol. 30. No. 4. Pg 5-7, 2008). (http://pustaka.litbang.deptan.go.id/publikasi/wr304083.pdf Accessed 26 June 2013).
  2. Eko Sutoro, Sunaji Zamroni,  Mempertemukan Dua Hulu: Pelajaran Desentralisasi Fiskal dan Penanggulangan Kemiskinan di Gunungkidul (IRE, Yogyakarta, 2011). “Reconciling Two Upstreams: The Fiscal Decentralization and Poverty Eradication in Gunungkidul (IRE, Yogyajarta, 2011)
  3. Franz Magnis-Suseno, Etika Jawa: Sebuah Analisa Falsafi tentang Kebijaksanaan Hidup Jawa (Gramedia, Jakarta, 1991). “Javanese Ethic: Philosophy analysis of the Java  Life’s Wisdom) (Gramedia, Jakarta 1991)
  4. Hildred Geertz, Keluarga Jawa (Grafiti Press, Jakarta, 1983). (“Javanese Familly” Grafiti Press, Jakarta, 1983)

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Why and how did farmers in Gunungkidul, Yogyakarta, participate in Jatropha projects? by JARAK the short history of Jatropha projects in Indonesia, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

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