KUNYIT: Windusari Farmers Union

The village of Windusari, perched 900 metres up the slopes of Mount Sumbing is home to both a large section of tobacco farms as well as a growing collective of farmers cultivating alternative crops such as vegetables and coffee beans. This week, we were lucky enough to explore the region and engage with the locals to better understand their ways of life.


Through our collective primary research, we synthesised two anecdotal stories that outline the issues of tobacco farming in the present, as well as envisioning a sustainable future through the shifting of crop cultivation and farmer empowerment. 


YOSSUN, 17

My father operates a large tobacco farm on the slopes of Windusari. The leaf he sells to the local Middle man is some of the best produced in the area; so my father is under a lot of pressure! He works many hours on the farm fertilising the soil so the crop grows faster. When the rain comes, especially in the wet season, it can destroy the yield quality and we make no money for the whole harvest. It has been raining more and more in the wet season for the past 3 years, extending into the typical dry season transition between March and April. The pressure has become so much that I have stopped my second year of senior high school, and begun helping my father fertilise and harvest the crop. I get sick from harvesting the leaf, I vomit nearly every day, sometimes I pass out and my mother takes me back to the home to take care of me. My father smokes tobacco cigars that the middlemen give him as incentive. My father is becoming sick… I try to tell him to consider another crop, but he says it’s impossible. I hear Coffee is being grown not far from here, it grows naturally in the unfertilised soil. They sell the coffee directly to cafes in Jogja for more than the value of the tobacco leaf.


ROKKOR, 35

15 years ago, My father passed away from throat and lung cancer, he was a tobacco farmer. My mother and brother inherited the farm, and we maintained it for the money, it was a stable business despite the risk of wet season. My brother and I always smoked, but my brother fell ill with Emphysema 3 years ago, he lives in the hospital now. The puskesmas helped me quit smoking, and I worked in Jogja as a Grab driver to save money. My neighbour in Windusari helped me rejuvenate the ground, and now I am a successful Ubii farmer. It is a versatile crop that is getting very popular in the mountains. Ubi is being exported to jogja in raw form, as chips, gluten free grain substitute and halal noodles & even Ice Cream!  We are now stable and influencing more farmers to move away from tobacco. The middle men aren’t happy, they threaten us but the farmers all stand strong together against the wicked tobacco industry.

Following on from 2019, more and more change was seen in Windusari and surrounds. Farmers were already diversifying their crops away from tobacco as the issues with tobacco farming became more widely understood in the community, and they discovered they could make higher profits without it. In Windusari sweet potato, Chilli and coffee were popular amongst the broad range being grown there.

Tobacco farming firstly supports an industry which hurts and exploits people in Indonesia by advertising a toxic substance to young people. Secondly it is a risky crop to invest in, as weather changes can kill crops and cost farmers all their invested money.

Thirdly, farmers work under harsh conditions, often getting nicotine poisoning through the pores of their skin. And lastly farmers don’t get enough money for their crops, as middle men take huge markups.

In 2020, 4 farmers who shared their common concerns for sustainable farming began meeting up every Friday afternoon to share their skills, knowledge, and to support each other. Over time their movement began to grow as more and more farmers shared the same goal: to create a better life for farmers and villagers in Windusari. Meetings became more formal and were held monthly. 


The year is now 2040, the farmers collective movement has influenced other communities Java wide, which encouraged a decision for the unionisation of farmers. This birthed the Windusari Farmers Union, named proudly after the first farmers who inspired the movement back in 2019. The Union, abbreviated as WFU, takes on the structure of a democratic model, with members values dictating the roles of the Executive Board and Presidents.

The union lobbies local government in order to fight for standardised pricing of crops. What makes this union unique is that it is small scale, community based, and run solely by farmers. Their main goal is to empower their own community.

In 2040, the monetary value of crops have increased, and bring more profit back to the community. This can be attributed to lobbying the government for standardised pricing, as well as the increased quality of crops due to local workshops and sharing knowledge on farming and productivity. Workplace health and safety has become a priority, which increases the livelihood of all farmers. Sustainable dams and water reservoirs made from bamboo are popping up all over Magelang and surrounds. They were facilitated through workshops by the union, who emphasise the harsh weather conditions that climate change will bring to the area. Collecting water during the harsher wet season will ensure farms have enough resources to survive the extreme dry season and increased temperature that will be reality for 2040. Education is important for the WFU, and so they hold workshops and events regularly for the community, even the children. These extend further than farming, and include sports days, arts and crafts, and social get togethers.

Essentially, the union has the power to bring better rights and pay to farmers, which will increase profits and fund education and resources. This leads to a better life in general for farmers which attracts residents to the area, creating a larger rural community, and enables even more resources, forming a positive cycle. This also counters the effects of urbanisation and increases profit and wellbeing. 


Our vision for Delimas farmlands in Windusari involves the rejuvenation of the already existing beginnings of a visitors centre. The Hollywood style Delimas sign will look down onto a hub for local tourists to come and learn about the region. The viewing platform facing the rolling hills of the mountains and farmland will feature informational signage and teach visitors about the different crops and topography of the land. It also serves as an awesome photo opportunity!  Because the area is now known for their high quality, artisan produce, market stalls are held on the first Sunday of every month.

By 2040, Magelang will be a popular tourist destination for both locals and internationals, and so these markets bring lots of life to the area. Market products include fresh produce of fruit and vegetables, as well as chilli and coffee. Through the union’s education, the farmers have learned how to cut out the middleman and to prepare their own products for final sale. Jobs such as drying the potatoes and making sambal now belong to local farmers instead of larger corporations. In the market stalls, one will discover Magelang branded Sambal, artisan Coffee, and Ubi Crisps. The Magelang brand is recognised nationally and even internationally for its unique taste and quality. Rural life is also promoted through the Windusari Farmer’s union merchandise. Over the years the work that the union has done has helped change perceptions around farming work, and the general public are finding it a more and more attractive lifestyle. In the 2030s climate change has also really negatively impacted people’s perceptions of the city and technology in general.

Windusari Farmers union promotes rural life by making farming ‘cool’. T-shirt’s are available for farmers themselves as well as other merch like tote bags which are available for the general public as a way to show their support in the movement. In 2040 farmers in Magelang and surrounds are proud of their profession and high quality produce. With the help of the Windusari Farmers Union, livelihoods of people like these guys have greatly improved. 

(POST B) Milkwood is providing real skills for down to earth living

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Students working on a market gardening course. Photo: Milkwood’s Instagram

Milkwood is a small, independent environmental design collective based in NSW. Run by Nick Ritar and his partner Kristen Bradley, they hold year round short courses, seminars and workshops on permaculture design and organic sustainable living. Nick and Kristen run an interdisciplinary collective; drawing on the expertise of local designers, artists, farmers, beekeepers, fermenters, market gardeners and teachers to share their knowledge and promote the principles of permaculture. Milkwood’s philosophy is about working with the natural environment rather than going against it.

Permaculture was brought to life in 1978 by Australian’s Bill Mollison and David Holmgren. Permaculture is about design. It integrates structures, plants and animals with the needs of humans (Warm Earth 2011.) Holmgren shares that permaculture is about creating designed landscapes that respect and mimic the eb and flow of nature, providing an abundant source of food and energy for self-sustainable living. The fundamental ethics of permaculture are earth care, people care and surplus share. These principles involve conservation and restoration of biodiversity, making sure basic human needs are met and sharing of time, knowledge and resources (Warm Earth 2011).

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Kristen at home in Kiama working in her garden. Photo: Emma Bowen

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Nick cultivating mushrooms in his spare time. Photo: Daniel Shipp

With a large focus on farming and food, permaculture is now being looked at as a solution to sustainable food production. What we overlook is that the “commodified food” which we consume, more often than not links back to unsustainable practices and organisations. As a collective Milkwood believes that knowledge is power; informed people can make conscious choices about what they put their money into. Currently the global mass consumption and production of food is becoming increasingly detrimental to the natural environment. There’s pollution, destruction of ecosystems, excessive wastage, use of damaging chemicals and pesticides, unjust animal living conditions and the list goes on. With a rapidly growing global population of consumers all demanding more we are quickly running ourselves into the ground. Nick articulates in his philosophy that there is “no disconnection between us and the natural systems we utilize and engage with. It’s the pretend separation from nature that allows us to get away with all kinds of horrific things”. The key towards moving to a self-sustainable way of living is swapping convenience culture for conscious ethical thinking.

Nick says “Permaculture is a design framework to enable whole systems thinking”. It is a mixture of scientific and design methodology and planning (a deep understanding of contexts) with simple and function physical manifestations. With this in mind Milkwood’s diverse education program covers topics such as: organic gardening, fermenting, beekeeping, mushroom cultivation, natural fabric dying, Small space farming and orcharding, natural building and permaculture design certificates.­ Their courses are run in their collaborative space at 107 Projects in Redfern as well as on agricultural land in the rural regions surrounding Sydney. The skills people learn can be taken home with them and applied to their own communities and living spaces no matter the size and location.

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A student’s plan for creating a communal permaculture garden as part of a short course. Photo: Milkwood’s Instagram

Nick and Kristen are thrilled that their permaculture experiment which started nine years ago on a farm in Mudgee, has now manifested into something holistic which they can pass on to others. “We can create beautiful, resilient, inter-sufficient communities where life is good, and the future is bright. Education is a huge part of that, and that’s what we’re personally involved in.”

Website: www.milkwood.net

Instagram: milkwood_permaculture

Reference List:

 Bowen, E. 2015, Interview: Milkwood, The Slowpoke, viewed April 8 2016, < https://web.archive.org/web/20160220091938/http://theslowpoke.com/interview-milkwood/ >.

Milkwood, 2016, Milkwood, viewed 8 April 2016, < https://www.milkwood.net >.

Reid, G. 2014, The Dirt: Nick Ritar, The Plant Hunter, viewed 8 April 2016, < http://theplanthunter.com.au/people/dirt-nick-ritar/ >.

Warm Earth, 2011, What is permaculture?, Warm Earth, No. 99. Pp 42-43.

*All images have been credited and linked to their original source*

POST D- Documentary: China Benteng- A Poetry

This documentary looks to capture parts of the vibrant life of the Chinese Benteng community. The filmmaker explains at the beginning this minority group referred to a community of Chinese Indonesians residing in Tangerang Area, in the province of Banen. Which was one occupied by the Dutch colonists. They have been known to live there since 1407 CE. This post will follow on the various lifestyles lead by this mix cultural populace and try to understand their perspective in short.

Keep in mind the people living in Tangerang are mostly farmers who have been following the family business since their arrival to the land and are quite isolated in the sense, by their environment; which is mostly of pastures, livestock and green-calm surrounding which in comparison to a rough, crowded, loud city life of Jakarta (Donenfeld, J 2013) which is an hours away. What’s more interesting is the fact the Benteng Chinese upholds to both the old Chinese and Betwai traditions which has been passed down from generations to generations like that of Lim Tjoan a 75 year old farmer who have retired from farming with his “…field work is now handled by my children” (Leo. P.J 2012), which is quite impressive in this day and age where many of the traditional understanding and knowledge is lost as new technologies and influences take its place. This show of cultural richness is further evidently shown at the start of the video where the people celebrate the ‘Dragon Boat’ festival, which started 2300 years ago when the Chou Dynasty ruled China (1122 – 256 BC) and has been celebrated to this very day as rememberence. And if you look in further there is a second layer of family traditions showcased when the “bride is combed by her brother three times in a row” (TheKotatua 2013, 9:20) a ritual with the filmmaker explaining that each comb has a meaning. In other times there is the traditional values that you hold on to as an individual which is shown in the video when the ducks are released into the water and the “people jumps into the river to catch ducks, which is believed will bring luck” (TheKotatua 2013, 22:43). It seems absurd to watch these occurrences being performed but if you look closely at its core reasoning, a sense of unity can be seen being bought to the community. It echoes togetherness and show of strength in a mental and physical sense towards the hardships and suppression the people of Tangerang had to endure over the past.

Participants of one of the dragon boats winning the race.
Participants of one of the dragon boats winning the race.

Today the Benteng Chinese culture is a mixture of Chinese and Betwai cultures, the Betwai being the indigenous people of Jakarta. These ties of mix tradition encourages a lifestyle which can be challenging but at the same time interesting to live by. Never the less there is no compromise for togetherness and that’s the key that holds this community together.

References

Donenfeld. J 2013, Back to City Life in Jakarta, Indonesia, weblog, viewed on 30 April 2015 <http://jeffreydonenfeld.com/blog/2013/04/back-to-city-life-in-jakarta-indonesia/ >

Leo. P.J 2012, ‘The life of Benteng Chinese’, The Jakarta Post, online, Jakarta, viewed on 30 April 2015 < http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2012/03/31/the-life-benteng-chinese.html&gt;

Donenfeld. J 2013, Back to City Life in Jakarta, Indonesia, weblog, viewed on 30 April 2015 <http://jeffreydonenfeld.com/blog/2013/04/back-to-city-life-in-jakarta-indonesia/ >

TheKotatua 2012, China Benteng- A Poetry, Youtube, viewed on 30 April 2015<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E83cFFrYx7U>

 Images and Videos

TheKotatua 2012, China Benteng- A Poetry, Youtube, viewed on 30 April 2015<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E83cFFrYx7U>

Participants of one of the dragon boats winning the race“, taken from the video.  TheKotatua 2012, China Benteng- A Poetry, Youtube, viewed on 30 April 2015<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E83cFFrYx7U>