The Jakarta Post
Hundreds of residents from over a dozen hamlets in Senden village, Selo district, Boyolali, Central Java, held a thanksgiving ceremony, traditionally known as Tungguk Tembakau, to mark the day of harvest on Aug. 3.
Walking along village roads in traditional attire and parading piles of crops, local farmers participated in the ritual to welcome the harvest on the eastern slope of the Merapi-Merbabu mountain zone and to express their gratitude to God Almighty for the tobacco they were going to gather.
Three mountain-shaped crop heaps called gunungan Kiai Anjang Kenconowere carried to symbolize prosperity, two of which contained tobacco leaves while the other was made up of other agricultural produce. Village art troupes followed the local farmers and performed traditional dances such as mask and bamboo-horse dances.
Directed by village elders, Tungguk Tembakau began with the plucking of 16 fresh tobacco leaves from plantations located at a height of 106 meters above sea level. The leaves were then hung on the gunungan before being turned over to farmers for further handling.
Accompanied by traditional dances, hundreds of tumpeng (rice cones), dishes, crop offerings and the gunungan Kiai Anjang Kencono were displayed along the two-kilometer road down the slope to the Senden village cemetery in the scorching sun, with the marchers maintaining their festive mood throughout.
The rice cones and tobacco heaps were meant as a manifestation of the farmers’ thankfulness to God for their lush green tobacco plants, the hot dry season and the anticipated abundant yield as their source of fortune. The ritual also saw the villages offer prayers for their bumper harvest, a return for their six-months of hard work taking care of the crops.
In reality, however, tobacco growers do not always receive sufficient reward for their efforts.
“Last year, the quality of our tobacco was poor so no cigarette factories were willing to buy it. Its retail price dropped, too,” said Siman, 40, a tobacco farmer from Senden.
At that time, dry chipped tobacco plunged in price from Rp75,000 (US$5.6) to Rp25,000 per kilogram because the crops had grown during a showery dry season. A high water grade in tobacco lowers its nicotine content.
“It’s the low nicotine content that makes tobacco bad. We have no bargaining position in fixing the tobacco price with the cigarette industry,” added Siman.
Yet this year’s harvest time brought relief to the farmers because their plants had grown in hot, dry weather, making them optimistic their harvest would be abundant with good quality tobacco. In order to demonstrate their delight, farmers organized the recent Tungguk Tembakau celebration in the most cheerful and jovial way.
By comparison, last year’s harvest event saw only several dozen farmers and residents of Senden parade their gunungan. This time, Senden farmers even invited residents from another district, Ampel, to enliven the tobacco harvest thanksgiving ritual.
With the bountiful and high quality tobacco harvest, farmers are anticipating a higher price and are beginning to forget last year’s price crash trauma. One such farmer, Sarjono, 54, expressed his high expectations and predicted his chipped tobacco could fetch a price of at least Rp 80,000 per kilogram.
For decades, farmers in Selo and its surrounding areas have relied on tobacco for their livelihoods, because the variety they grow is suited to the dry zone with low temperatures. Under normal weather conditions, a hectare of land can produce roughly 9 quintals to 10 quintals of dry tobacco. A quintal of tobacco leaves can be used to create 17 kilograms to 20 kilograms of dry chipped tobacco.
But when there is a price slump, farmers must sell their belongings to repay loans and prepare capital for the next planting season.
“Farmers can only hope, because a good harvest can be followed by an unstable price. It all depends on the major cigarette manufacturers,” said Sarjono.
Boyolali Regent Seno Samodro said that so far, no formula had been devised to control the tobacco price. He described the need for communication from the beginning of the production process between tobacco farmers and middlemen or cigarette factories to prevent fluctuating prices.
“The government should control tobacco imports. Local tobacco should be used before imports,” he said.
Seno promised his administration would not make any regional anti-tobacco regulations because Boyolali contributed 60 percent of the tobacco used in cigarette products in Temanggung, Central Java.
“Boyolali is planning to build its own tobacco warehouse,” Seno said.