Over the past 16 years, rock musician Gede Robi Supriyanto has ensured his idealism for environmental issues has been heard through the lyrics and music played by his Denpasar-based indie band, Navicula — the Green Grunge Gentlemen of the local music scene.
Still singing about his environmental idealism today, Robi does not allow himself to swim at the discourse level only. He is not a NATO (No Action Talk Only) kind of a guy. He transforms his words into actions, having initiated his own urban farm on several plots of land in Denpasar. He has also taken to writing to spread the message, founding the online magazine akarrumput.com, “an earth walker guide to growing wild”.
Bali Daily’s Agnes Winarti recently talked with 33-year-old Robi about his environmental and social activism. Here are excerpts of his views.
Question: Is there a personal story behind your passion for your go-green campaign?
Answer: I was actually born into a family with a farming background. I spent most of my childhood in the city of Denpasar, while my grandfather had a five-hectare farm in Pupuan village on the slope of Mount Batukaru, Tabanan regency.
Although my father worked for a bank, he always tried to make me appreciate the lives of our farming family, despite the fact that I was raised in the city. Whenever I asked for an extra allowance during my junior and senior high school years, my parents always told me, “First, you have to dry the coffee beans at your grandfather’s farm.” I was upset, but I had to do it anyway. Part of the income from the coffee beans they sold were then given to me, then I would use it to pay for my music activities, buy new guitar strings, buy new shoes, and so on.
Now, as I have grown up, I understand that my father taught me to never forget my agricultural roots. The things my father taught me have influenced me greatly; I have become attached to family farmland, which is now being handed over to me. Thus, I prefer to manage the land than to sell it, unlike many other Balinese who sell their family’s land to buy a house and car in the city.
Although I haven’t been able to fully manage the five hectares of farmland, I have planted ginger and papaya plants in one hectare, while the remaining four hectares are still producing coffee, cloves, cacao, and seasonal fruit, such as mangosteen, banana and durian, and also vegetables, such as kecipir (winged beans), kara and gambas (squash). I hope someday to turn the one hectare area into organic farmland for vegetables and medicinal plants.
[Robi has also started growing his own organic vegetables such as pumpkins, long beans, sawi (Chinese cabbage) and pare (bitter gourd), on a small plot of land at his rented home on Jl. Hayam Wuruk, at his akarumput.com office on Jl. Drupadi, at his mother-in-law Robin Lim’s clinic in Ubud, and on another plot of land on Jl. Ahmad Yani.]
Do you consume what you grow?
Yes. There were times when my friends and I have got so fed up with eating sawi, because it was so abundant we had to sell some to a restaurant.
You have been known for years as a rock musician, why do you want to be a farmer? What message are you trying to convey to your fans?
From my father I learned to appreciate and never forget the cultural roots of our nations, those roots are agricultural and maritime. Anything about ecology and the environment has always fascinated me since I started writing the lyrics for my band. I thought, why not just combine both, the environmental messages and the music. As an indie punk-rock band member, I always try to apply the Do It Yourself principle of such a band. Anything, be it music or the environment, can be sustainable if we produce by ourselves, if we do it ourselves.
With all the convenience that modern life has to offer, how can you make city people interested in urban farming?
By building awareness and strengthening the image that urban farming is something cool, just like when people promoted the cycling culture.
When did you start to reach out to others to perform concrete environmentally friendly actions like organic farming?
From the beginning of my music life, I have also been involved as a consultant in several NGOs. After working for NGOs for quite some time, I thought of initiating my own environmental idealism, which would not depend on anyone for funds, because I am the funder. Thus, I started my own Akarumput community, which has had its own akarumput.com online media for the past five months. Bali Urban Farming is one of Akarumput’s programs. I write for akarumput.com too, in a participative journalism way, which means I write as well as doing what I write about. So, the mission of Akarumput is to move one step ahead from discourse, to translate discourse into action.
And your targets for this Bali Urban Farming program will be?
Simply to make it trendy. Have more people taking part. As they reach production surplus, which means producing more than you can eat, I hope to open a weekly organic market in the city as a place where the surplus product can be offered at affordable prices to the public.
What kind of environment in Bali do you dream of in the future?
I want Bali, my home, to have a good trash management system. You know, one of my organic farms on Jl. Ahmad Yani faces the river, which should have been a beautiful sight, but because so much plastic trash has piled up along the riverbank, there’s no beautiful view. In [European] countries, rivers are usually loved for their scenic beauty, here we have rivers as garbage containers.
Besides promoting urban farming, I also try to sort my own household’s trash and make my own compost as natural fertilizer for my organic farm. I believe there are other individuals out there who also share a similar concern.
But the problem is we need the government to establish a waste management system in order to make it work.
For example, the Irish government applies a tax on plastic, which resulted in an abrupt reduction of plastic waste by up to 90 percent. We estimated that if the Bali administration managed its own garbage, it could also produce up to Rp 4 trillion of additional income per year. So, the economic value of garbage does exist. The government just has to be smarter. The discourse for Bali Goes Green has been presented for the past decade. The government should have taken action by now.
Despite the lack of government initiatives for this problem, why is it still important for individuals to start sorting their own trash?
Even I sort my trash with skepticism. But we have to remain optimistic and keep doing what we can to be more environmentally friendly.
If you look at yourself, what are you first and foremost? A musician or an activist?
My core is activism. I just try to use various media, music is one of them. My online magazine is another.
What is the difference between akarumput.com and other environmental NGOs?
We are not an NGO, we are a PT, a private company. Yes, we do seek profit from our activities, but we will use part of the profits to fund projects close to our hearts, especially related to the environment, arts or subculture movements. We are trying to be honest that we are profit seekers, to avoid hypocrisy in what we do.
Do you think you can still maintain your idealism, after, let’s say, booking a huge profit?
It all depends on the way we view money. I regard money as a tool, thus I hope to spend my money for philanthropic activities. Others may regard money as a goal, thus they will never be satisfied no matter how rich they become. The people around me, like my humble artist friends, my parents and my mother-in-law, Robin Lim, have greatly influenced my perspective on money: to never become its slave.
Navicula was established in 1996 with the idea of making change through music, do you think the band has achieved its objective?
Objectively speaking, nowadays grunge music has become identical with green topics. We can say that our group has popularized the green grunge terminology throughout Indonesia. And many other music bands from Bali and outside Bali that claim to be influenced by Navicula, often also bring environmental topics into their creations. That’s a positive influence I believe. We have survived this long because we are truly passionate about the soul of our music.