By Heru Prasetya
MAGELANG, Central Java (JP): A simple man of 63 years whose formal education stopped at junior high school, Suko traveled to Jakarta in March to meet Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri.
He was honored with the Kehati award for his efforts in cultivating mina padi -- a system of rice growing where fish are also reared in wet fields -- and his development of an organic fertilizer.
""I'd never been to Jakarta before. I was trembling and scared when I used an elevator for the first time in my life,"" he said at his house in Kenteng hamlet, Mangunsari village in Magelang.
But Suko, or Mbah Suko as he is known by locals, is one of the few farmers who resisted the government's program dating back to 1970 to substitute local rice with what it termed a pest-resistant ""superior variety"".
The drive also led to the replacement of traditional organic fertilizer with chemical pesticide. The program continued in 1980 with the Special Instruction/Pre-Special Instruction (Insus/Pra Insus).
The government told farmers like Suko that the programs would enable them to harvest more rice of higher quality.
But Suko said that, in reality, the opposite was true. The rice was harder and more easily spoiled compared to local strains of rice, soil quality deteriorated and insects, which were a help in controlling pests, disappeared with the introduction of pesticide.
Nearly all the land here is now dry and difficult to cultivate, he said.
""There are also people who have asked for permits to leave their land to dry up because it became too difficult to cultivate. In Kenteng subdistrict around 30 hectares of land has dried up,"" Suko explained.
Suko and two other residents, Teguh and Tarmuji, decided they would return to traditional techniques. Suko cultivated a local type of glutinous rice on Teguh's 0.8 hectare of land, along with carp in the fields. Along with several other residents, they began using manure instead of chemical pesticide.
On Oct. 22, 1989, they set up a group called the Kelompok Mino Suryo Ngudi Raharjo. Several other surrounding villages have also imitated the 22-member group's technique of mina padi and are using organic fertilizer.
Each member of Kelompok Mino Suryo Ngudi Raharjo has an average 0.5 hectare of land, all of which use the mina padi system. Every 1,000 square meters gives them 300 kilograms of milled dried unhulled paddy at a price of Rp 2,000.
Sometimes the farmers vary the local strain of rice with the government's rice. They also collect fish four times every planting season.
The main ingredient in the organic fertilizer is rabbit urine which has been kept for 30 days in a closed, shaded place.
One part of the urine is mixed with four parts water, if it is to be used to fertilize rice fields, and six parts water for use on vegetable crops.
Rabbit feces are also used. The droppings are mixed with water and left to stand for three days in a container, such as a jerry can. Compost is also made from brain, traditional chili-shrimp paste (terasi), water and cow manure.
According to two group members, Sunar and Warju, mina padi and organic fertilizer are actually legacies from former generations, stopped with the Soeharto government rulings.
They consider Suko a hero for bringing back traditional practices and helping local farmers.
""Mbah Suko is the one preserving the inheritance,"" Sunar said.
""The mina padi provides us additional income as well as reducing plant disease. The fish prey on insects, normally considered pests, that live under the rice stalks,"" Warju added.