The Hardship of Farming in Kertasari

It was 12.30 pm when more than a dozen of middle-aged women descended through a steep hill at the slope of Mount Wayang. Their colorful plastic rain coats and cone-shaped, woven bamboo farmer hats called caping looked bright in contrast to the dark brown surroundings of vacant plantation plots.

Once in a while they cracked a laughter. At a glance their naive looks gave an impression of a humble character. But with a further observation, one could find that their facial expression was not convincing enough to cover up the burden of hardship they have long endured.

They slowed their walks and then stopped at a pond used for car wash. Soon after putting off the rain coats and farm boots they started to clean up the dirt they got from a day work in a vegetable plantation.

Among this group of caping-clad women was an old woman of 150 cm tall with wrinkles on her face. The petite old woman with a bent back carried a black canvas bag containing her meal.  Her name is Enyah, 60, and she works as a potato farm laborer in Tarumajaya Village, Kertasari Sub-district, Bandung District.

Enyah has been working as a farm laborer for 10 years since her husband passed away. She forces herself to continue working as a laborer because of an economic reason. She works between 6.30 am to 12.00 pm every day. Her sweat is worth a wage of 18,000 rupiah a day.

She lives in a house whose walls made of mostly woven bamboo with a female grandchild. The girl is now in the third year of Madrasyah Tsanawiyah (an Islamic Junior High) and plans to continue her study to Madrasah Aliyah (an Islamic Senior High). And Enyah is now in a state of confusion as with her daily wage it won’t be enough to send the girl to her future school.

Enyah, 60, is one of Kertasari’s farm laborers.

“Let alone paying the entrance fee for Aliyah school, even just to put food on the table and to give a pocket money to my grandchild everyday will empty my wallet. Actually I am tired of this work, but I can do nothing,” said Enyah.

Another story is shared by Imah, 46. In one of the potato warehouses in Cibeureum Village, she was sorting newly harvested potatoes. She was sorting them based on their size. This is a routine work she has done to make ends meet since her husband passed away. Getting paid for 14,000 rupiah for a day work, she continues living in a house standing on a plot of land owned by a local village official.

“Although all my children have worked to earn a living, I don’t want to disturb them with my problems, because they all have families to support,” said Imah.

Living condition of people who work as laborers in this area located to the east of Bandung District’s capital is not much different from the one of those who own a small category plot of land. The cost to cultivate agricultural land could not always be covered by the level of selling price of a crop, making farmers suffer frequent financial losses.

Maman, 77, one of the farmers in Cibeureum Kertasari area, shares his story about this issue. He said that he once bought carrot seeds for 1,000 rupiah per kg, but latter on during a harvest time he could only sell his carrots for 500 rupiah per kg. Maman said that to grow carrots in 2,000 square meters of land could cost him between six to seven million rupiah. Having spent that amount of money, Maman expects to gain between two to four million rupiah of net income in a single crop.

However, luck is not always on his side. Although Maman and his wife Imah, 68, have 50 years of experience in farming, he can do nothing to deal with a sudden rise in the cost of agricultural production when it is not followed by a proportional increase in the crop sales, such as in a case of falling price of potato and carrot crops that leave farmers without gaining any return for the high cost they spent on production.


Maman,70, and his wife Imah,68, have worked as farmers for 50 years.

“I once suffered a negative return, not enough to cover the cost I spent, even I once suffered a loss in a double amount of the cost. For a small-time farmer like me, when we get a slightly higher return from the crop, we will use the extra money for food and daily needs. But when we suffer losses, we have to borrow money from a middle man to cover the cost of cultivation and living,” said Maman. Despite this kind of condition, Maman tries to survive. The absence of own fund and other skills makes farming the only choice he has. He finds it enough to live a life by fulfilling his basic needs only.

Limited land and fund
The story of Enyah and Imah represents the condition of around 10,391 farm laborers in Kertasari area. Lack of education and other jobs has forced people to work as farm laborers and put them at the group of low income people. Their farming skills are hindered by limited land space, making most of them work in other people’s land.

This condition is also seen by Ayi Iskandar, the village head of Tarumajaya in Kertasari Sub-district. According to him, the village area, which is surrounded plantations and forests belonging to the state-run forestry company Perum Perhutani, only leaves minimal private land ownership. Additionally, Ayi said that the constraints faced by farmers in his area include not only the fluctuation of crop prices but also the lack of financial resources and targeted markets.
Farmers once tried Farmers Loan (KUT), however, instead of getting any return, they suffered a loss due to the falling price of vegetable crop as the market was flooded by the oversupply of vegetables.

The situation is even worsened by the absence of credit scheme extended by banks to micro scale farmings. This leads farmers to a debt trap of easy borrowings to cover agricultural production cost offered by other sources, despite the fact they are actually not soft loans at all. And it eventually costs the farmers the whole revenue they are supposed to gain from the crops as they have to surrender their crops to another party.

According to Ayi, funding has become an obstacle to farming in his village. A lack of fund has forced small scale farmers to borrow money to continue farming. After harvest time, they have to repay their debt, leaving only a small amount of money, even sometimes the debt could not be fully repaid.

“No wonder if the proceeds from the crops will be directly used to repay their debt. That is the common practice done by the people here regardless of any season, a vicious cycle of borrowing and paying back (locally termed as ‘gali lobang tutup lobang’),” said Ayi.

The power of knowledge and fund
A contrasting condition happens to large scale famers in Kertasari area, however their number is so limited. Strong financial resources along with established knowledge are the strong factors behind the success story of big farmers.

Ujang Tatang,45, a Kertasari farmer, joins a PHT training.

Sharing his farming experience, Ujang Tatang, 45, said an everlasting success of farming is attributable to two things, namely financial resources and agricultural knowledge. “There should be two of them together, instead of one of them only, as knowledge would not be useful without any financial resources, neither would financial resources without a knowledge,” said Ujang.

Ujang is one of the lucky farmers who have been trained on the government sponsored Integrated Pest Control (PHT). Unfortunately, due to the limited government budget not every farmer could join the training. But Ujang said that he always shares the knowledge he learnt during the training with other farmers in Kertasari area.

According to Ujang, a cultivation cost varies from one crop to another. To grow potato in one hectare plot of land costs 74 million rupiah. This amount does not cover pesticide use, labor wages and distribution cost. In case of 20 tons of potato crop, it can yield in 100 million rupiah of gross income. Over the last one year Ujang has employed a more modern farming method. He constructed a greenhouse, a structure made of light steel frames with transparent roofs and walls, on top of a plot of land in the backyard of his house. The plot of land in such a house could be cultivated under a manipulation of environmental condition.

One of agricultural intensification programs through a greenhouse technology in Kertasari.

It employs a different cultivation method when compared to conventional ways, but it results in a more optimum crop. “I built this greenhouse a year ago and this is the only one in Kertasari. It costs me 250 million rupiah to have this 600 square meters of land. But the crop is quite good, it could be equal to or even more than the crop produced in a conventional land of 2 hectares,” explained Ujang. Today his greenhouse is used to produce potato seeds in addition to grow vegetables for export purposes. Moreover, this cultivation inside the house minimizes the use of pesticide.

According to farmers in Kertasari, the presence of middle men is beneficial to the continuation of cultivation process. In case of any extra cost arose during agricultural production such as a need to buy pesticide, seeds, and for crop storage, a middle man is usually going to be the first person to be contacted. However, the ongoing competition among middle men has taken its toll on farmers’ interest, such as the common practice among the middle men to buy the whole crop in advance or locally called ijon. Ayi Sobarudin, 43, one of the middle men, said that the presence of other middle men has forced him to develop a good skill to predict farmers’ crops.

“By applying the (ijon) system we are not always lucky as what we do is a speculation, when the crop yield is much more than expected, we are lucky, but when it is not enough, it becomes our risk. Regarding the value, it is quite difficult to set, because it is much dependent on the market and major middle men,” said Ayi.

The high contribution of agricultural sector to Gross Domestic Product, which was amounted to 243.82 trillion in the first quarter of 2013, seems to be not in parallel with the welfare condition of the agricultural actors, taking an example of Kertasari area with the majority of its residents are grouped into middle to low income category. Budhi Gunawan, a social and environmental analyst,  said that there should be a holistic overhaul to alter the current agricultural condition which is unfavorable to farmers. As the success of a development can only be accomplished when people’s welfare can be materialized. (Iffah Rachmi).