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Jakarta Post

Seeding the future

  • Trisha Sertori

    The Jakarta Post

Batuan   /   Tue, December 30, 2014   /  12:20 pm
Seeding the future

Future farmer: This little boy is learning early the importance of seed saving for healthy crops.

Ripening stalks whisper in the breeze, their gold heads laden with the rice that feeds a nation. It is a glorious view back-dropped with coconut palms heavy with fruit. However, all is not as it seems.

'€œEvery year the farmers need more chemical fertilizer to grow the rice. This year that small plot needed hundreds of kilos of fertilizer and that will almost double next year,'€ says IDEP Director Ade Andriawan, adding that idep is a Balinese word for critical thinking.

Over the last two years, rice crops in this seemingly fertile area have failed due to exhausted soils. '€œMost natural nutrients have been lost, so farmers are dependent on chemical fertilizers,'€ says Ade.

He is speaking on the sidelines of a seed-saving program for women at IDEP'€™s Batuan demonstration site.

Dozens of plant varieties grow here, including asparagus. The site is proof of the potential of organic farming to replenish soils spent of nutrients after decades of intensive rice farming dependent on chemicals.

'€œWe were told asparagus could not grow in the local climate here; the same is said for lettuce. I believe we grow [plants] in our hearts first; if we grow in our hearts plants can grow anywhere,'€ says Ade standing by a delicate asparagus hedge.

Cuttings from these asparagus plants will be harvested and grown to expand IDEP'€™s crop. Seeds from the site'€™s winter gourds, tomatoes, chilies, cucumbers and okra will also be collected to produce new crops.

This is the point of the seed saving seminar: to retain the ability of plant varieties to produce viable seeds, as plants have done since the beginning of their evolution on earth.

IDEP communications manager Cela Putri says the shift to monoculture planting and the infiltration of genetically modified plants (GMO) in Indonesia has put at risk the ability of farmers to harvest and grow their crops, making them dependent on outsiders for seeds.

'€œWe need to save natural seeds, because with the Green Revolution rice strains, hybrid varieties and mono-cultural farming, a lot the local biodiversity in plant species was lost. So we try and promote the seed-saving program to local farmers so they can produce their own seeds, rather than buying seed and also promote sustainable agriculture with organic farming,'€ says the 22-year-old.

Cela expressed a similar sentiment.

'€œI think seed saving makes farmers more resilient in their agriculture and food production and it gives them greater control over seed quality,'€ says the young woman adding the IDEP seed-saving program does not yet include traditional rice strains in its seed bank.

IDEP'€™s program is underpinned by 15 farmers growing a wide range of organic vegetables. Seeds are sold to IDEP, which then swaps the seeds among groups of farmers across the island.

Seeds of life: This handful of seeds will become millions with harvesting over the years.Seeds of life: This handful of seeds will become millions with harvesting over the years.

'€œWe buy seeds from these farmers and distribute them to people interested in seed saving. We also run projects with many farmers, introducing the concept. At the moment we are setting up a seed-saving garden in Flores for two villages, so the program is spreading outside of Bali,'€ says Cela.

During the seed-saving seminar in late December, held to celebrate Indonesian Mothers Day and National Planting Month, the facilitator explained that enough seeds can be harvested from one tomato to produce dozens of new plants. From these dozens, hundreds can grown.

GMO and hybrid seeds, on the other hand, are sometimes sterile. Some agricultural researchers deliberately create '€œterminator technology'€ varieties that produce sterile seeds.

Thriving families: Families plant crops together during IDEP'€™s seed saving seminar recently.Thriving families: Families plant crops together during IDEP'€™s seed saving seminar recently.

Known as GURT, (genetic use restriction technology), terminator technology may be efficient for intensive farming in developed nations, but disastrous in countries like Indonesia, where farming is often at the subsistence level, writes Vijayakumar Somalinga for the Genome British Columbia project.

'€œMedium, low and subsistence farming practices dominate the agricultural systems of the developing world. There are nearly 1.4 billion farmers around the world engaged in these farming systems. These farming practices rely heavily on saved seeds and use it for replanting. If '€œterminator seeds'€ are introduced in these systems it will replace the existing seeds and force the farmers to buy seeds every season, which poor farmers from developing countries cannot afford,'€ Somalinga wrote on an issue that IDEP'€™s seed saving program is working to address at the grass roots.

'€” Photos by JB Djwan

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