POST C: The Decline of Tobacco Farming

Farmers in Central Java are turning their backs on tobacco, and the future is looking nothing but bright…

Tobacco farming in some areas is considered patriotic. (Moran, J. 2019)

Indonesia has a rich farming culture, and it is tobacco farming that is intrinsically linked to their national identity, both historically and economically. There’s a small village an hour or so north of Yogyakarta city in Central Java, at the foot of Mount Sumbing called Windusari. In 2013, this area relied on tobacco farming for almost all of its income, but as a result of a growing resistance to tobacco consumption nationally and internationally, the farming community has strived to create a more unique local image. It is a unique area in central Java, being known for its mountains and colder climate in what we know to be a very hot country. From the beginning of 2020, the region will have halved its tobacco crop, relying on a diverse crop of coffee, sweet potato, onion and garlic to act as a safety net for the village in case one particular harvest fails.

The only reason I know this was because of an interview with a farmer from this area. He has requested to remain anonymous but was willing to share his story and his thoughts about the future of farming in Central Java. I will refer to him as Mr Sukarno, although this is not his real name.

Mr Sukarno says that although many people in the local community of Windusari are eager to diversify their farming and explore possibilities other than tobacco, there are many patriotic communities who feel it is their duty to continue harvesting only this crop to enhance the symbol of Indonesian independence. These feelings are still evident despite the fact that many large tobacco companies create a complex system of contracting farmers that leave them with a significantly lower amount of profit than if they were to farm other produce. Mr Sukarno and other farmers in the Windusari area have understood they were limiting their potential economic growth by only farming one crop and have been able to obtain government assistance to provide produce that is ‘in-demand’ in the local area, such as onions and garlic. Mr Sukarno was also one of the few farmers in the area to receive coffee seeds from the local government, planting over 500 trees in an attempt to economically grow the region further in future.

I was intrigued to find that the future of the area is looking as prosperous as ever, as many young people and children of farmers are keen to educated themselves and return to rural life, despite the belief that a large amount of young people are seeking the attractive urban lifestyle. Mr Sukarno has three children, two of which are returning to Windusari by free choice to employ innovative and experimental farming methods, assisting to create a stable income for local families. Young people who have a primary AND secondary education that are eager to return to rural farming communities will open a new door for agriculture in Windusari and Central Java, populating a region that has rarely received a formal education.

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