Farmers should increasingly become entrepreneurs to find homegrown solutions to their problems rather than relying on the government, Helianti Hilman, a progressive natural farming expert from Indonesia, has urged. “When you are an entrepreneur, you think of innovations. An entrepreneurial mindset is very important for farmers because most of the time they keep complaining that they are small farmers and do not have access to finance or markets. “But if you introduce the concept of entrepreneurship among them, the more you have problems, the more excited and challenged you are to find solutions,” Hilman told IANS on the sidelines of a natural farming summit organised by the Sri Sri Institute of Agricultural Sciences & Technology Trust (SSIAST) here.
Being an entrepreneur “you always think of solving problems. That is what entrepreneurs do. It is interesting to push yourself to solve problems and find solutions”, Hilman said. Hilman is Chief Executive Officer of Javara Indigenous, a social entreprise that works with over 52,000 small-scale farmers to preserve and promote Indonesia’s food biodiversity, traditional techniques and indigenous wisdom and help farmers to get market opportunities at local and global levels.
Hilman spoke about how brainstorming over the immediate use of vegetables that may otherwise rot led to the creation of 14 types of vegetable noodles that became a huge success in Indonesia. Javara Indigenous produces about 747 different organic products, about 80 per cent of which is exported. According to Hilman, Indonesia has reduced to just 1,100 its rice varieties due to chemical fertilisers compared to 7,000 that existed before the Green Revolution in the 1950s.
She said there was need to influence and educate government as most of the time it is found “not to be helping farmers” but rather “bothering them”. “Government does not think like an entrepreneur. Their mindset is that they have a budget to spend.” Hilman said it was more difficult to get permission to sell organic products in her own country than in other countries due to stringent regulations, which other countries have done away with.
“Government’s insensitivity is same everywhere. I had a privilege to meet the President of Indonesia about two years ago where he called me a front-runner for export of rural products. I told him that it was because it was more difficult to get a licence from the Indonesian government than getting it from the FDAs (Food and Drug Administrations) in countries like the US, Switzerland and Japan. He was shocked. He asked ‘How come?'” she said.
Hilman said she then showed the President all the regulations that stopped Indonesian farmers from selling their organic products within the country. She said governments across the world must be facing pressure from powerful global seeds and fertiliser companies, for whom organic farming may cause financial losses.
“I think it happens everywhere. But now, the Indonesian government has started realising the situation and has started promoting organic farming. Whether it is right or not, they have to safeguard that,” she added. Hilman said exchange of indigenous seeds among different countries helps in creating different kinds of breeds.
“There are small, tiny islands in Indonesia that have 14 different colours of corn, from black to orange, purple to white. It is not native to Indonesia. People do not know when it came to Indonesia. It is assimilating with the culture,” she said. “Seeds have been travelling around the world. There has been exchange of seeds, which have been assimilating and adapting with the local ecosystem and it created different kinds of breeds.”
Hilman said she has been working with experts on ancient manuscripts in her country to to find what has been recorded in them on different types of plants, culinary practices and agricultural practices. “I have been working with experts on ancient manuscripts to find any documentation of food systems we have had in the past. It is very interesting to know different types of techniques so we can adopt them,” she said.