BANDUNG, INDONESIA — Mimin Permana hurried along on his scooter with a sack of green beans in tow. Driving on the backroads of Western Java, Permana was taking the freshly harvested green beans from his 500-meter square farmland to an office of the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund (ICDF). An administrative worker at the office helped Permana to weigh the beans with an automatic scale.

Permana is a member of Sugih Mukti Cikole, a farmer’s organization, that has received agricultural training from the Taiwan Technical Mission (TTM), a project under the ICDF. From January 2015 to December 2019, the ICDF has trained at least 60 “core” farmers, 90 farmers organizations, and 1800 local farmers in the Bandung area.

“My earnings have increased by 60 percent to 70 percent,” Permana told The News Lens, crediting the training he received from the Taiwanese mission.

But Permana also acknowledged that the mission did not prepare farmers to cope with Covid-19, which has pummeled Indonesia since early March.

Although Permana can harvest and plant unencumbered by social distancing, he’s encountered difficulties selling yellow pumpkins, red tomatoes, and green beans on the market. Farmers in Permana’s village, Lembang, mostly plant lucrative crops like these for sale in grocery stores in the cities. Some of the wholesalers, who are the brokers between the farmers and the grocery stores, have temporarily shut business.

The ICDF bought Permana’s green beans for US$0.35 per kilogram, which he said is an acceptable price. Middlemen typically only pay US$0.21 per kilogram.


Photo Credit: Leo Hartono

The Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund Office in Lembang, Bandung, Western Java, Indonesia.

During the pandemic, the ICDF has provided seeds, fertilizer, and pesticides to local farmers. In return, farmers agree to sell their crops to the ICDF.

Pan Po-yuan, a specialist at the Taiwanese mission, told The News Lens that pandemic has greatly hindered ICDF activities. Pan said that the mission could only conduct a workshop with a maximum of five farmers per session. He would like to increase the capacity soon, but it might be hard to return to the same class size of 30 farmers before the pandemic.

Pan noted that around 20 farmers sell their produce to the ICDF office during the pandemic.

“Here we have fair trade with the farmers,” Pan said.

The ICDF had previously distributed the local farmers’ produce to several supermarkets in Bandung, like Carrefour, Borma, and Papaya. But they have been closed during the government lockdown. The ICDF is seeking new potential buyers, while the local farmers are still able to distribute by themselves as they have their own existing distribution channels, Pan said. He added that the local farmers have had no problems with crop yields during the pandemic.

Where ICDF training doesn't work, farmers turn to traditional practices

Nana Sumarna, 49, has also suffered income losses since the closing of the wholesale markets. ICDF could not buy his entire tomato crop, so he had to watch the rest of his tomatoes rot.

Sumarna managed to survive by relying on what the farmers call tumpangsari, or intercropping. Farmers employing this method plant two or three commodities in one field, which goes beyond the ICDF’s training to plant a single crop inside the greenhouse.


Photo Credit: Leo Hartono

Zucchini is considered a promising commodity on the vegetable market, according to Heri Maman, a 38-year-old farmer. To make it through the price drops, Maman has turned to tumpangsari to grow zucchini, cucumber, and cauliflower. But business is still not booming.

Farming skill is not a problem for Maman, but he admitted that farmers in Lembang commonly lack knowledge to open a distribution channel themselves.

ICDF’s project is now entering the second phase to make the farmers more self-sufficient.

A similar goal is shared by the other ICDF mission in West Java Province, in Karawangtold.

“We want to be a game changer here by training the farmers to grow vegetables as an alternative to only growing rice. Our aim is to increase their income,” said Chiu Chien-hsiang, a specialist at the ICDF’s Karawangtold mission.

Gaining the trust of local farmers, however, sometimes remains a challenge for the ICDF. Chiu said that they have provided vegetables to families in need during Covid-19 as a friendly gesture. The recovery for the Indonesian farmers may be slow, but the skills and experience they’ve accumulated will persist beyond the pandemic.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty, Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

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