Bedugul organic farmers struggle against long distribution

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Anton Muhajir,  Contributor, Bedugul | Thu, 09/18/2008 10:35 AM | Surfing Bali

The hilly area of Bedugul, around a two-hour drive north of the island’s capital Denpasar, is one of the most scenic places in Bali.

For decades it has been the island’s biggest producer of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Recently, local farmers are breaking free from the prevailing trade and distribution scheme in order to gain better prices for their products and a better life for their families.

I Wayan Kanten, a vegetable grower in Bedugul’s Pancasari village, said the old scheme put farmers in a weak position. It also brought very little, if any, advantages to them.

“For all these years the farmers have always been poor. It turns out that this fact is the result of the ‘game’ those people play within the trade and distribution scheme. Those people are very cruel, they don’t want the farmers to have any knowledge of the market,” he said.

The people he was referring to are tengkulak (village-level commodity middlemen), pengepul (wholesale commodity collectors) and supplier (large scale buyers, who cater to big tourism facilities).

These people populate the long chain of trade and distribution, which separates the farmer from consumer.

Kanten, who is also the coordinator of the Muda Mandiri farmers’ group, said their products moved along a long chain of trade and distribution before reaching consumers. Under this old scheme, it is impossible for the local farmers to sell their products directly to the markets or the consumer.

After being harvested, paprika (bell peppers), tomatoes, carrots, Chinese cabbages and other fresh vegetables are usually sold to tengkulak, who mostly live in the same villages as the farmers.

The farmers sell their products to the tengkulak not because they like the prices offered by the tengkulak or out of a sense of loyalty to their fellow villagers. They sell to the tengkulak because they don’t have any choice.

These farmers are usually in heavy financial debts to the tengkulak, who generally come from wealthier families than the farmers.

The debts are used as leverage by tengkulak to force the local farmers to accept the cruel buying system known as ijon. The system allows the tengkulak to buy the crop even before the start of the harvest season.

“Consequently, the buying prices are set by the tengkulak. The farmers have no choice but to oblige due to their financial debts to the tengkulak,” Kanten said.

More often than not, the farmers do not receive their cash on the day the tengkulak take their products.

“It’s not a fair scheme. The farmers have to wait for up to three months before receiving the cash. Sometimes, it is not a full pay since the tengkulak only give half of the payment.”

The tengkulak send the products to the pengepul, who operate small to moderate-sized warehouses in the district’s capital or in Denpasar, a city 60 kilometers away from Bedugul.

Naturally, the tengkulak sell the products to the pengepul at higher prices than their ijon prices.

The pengepul sell the products to suppliers, which in turn sell those vegetables to the markets, hotels and restaurants across the island.

Ni Luh Kartini (far left) chats with a local vegetable grower in Bedugul, Bali. (JP/Anton Muhajir)

Ni Luh Kartini (far left) chats with a local vegetable grower in Bedugul, Bali. (JP/Anton Muhajir)

This long chain of trade and distribution, according to the coordinator of Bali Organic Association (BOA), Ni Luh Kartini, creates significant price discrepancies between the prices received by the farmers and the ones paid by the actual consumers.

“The farmers never know at what price their products are sold in the markets,” she said.

BOA has launched a program to assist the island’s farmers in embracing organic farming as well as in getting better prices for their products.

“The existing scheme is not fair because it doesn’t involve the farmers in any decision concerning pricing policy. In this scheme, the farmers will always be poor and the people who get rich from the trade are tengkulak, pengepul and suppliers.”

Realizing the flaws of the old scheme and their weak position, the Pancasari’s farmers established a farmers’ group. Assisted by BOA, the group has opened several new markets for their products.

Currently, their products are sold to restaurants and stores dedicated to organic farming’s products, including Bali Buddha and Manic Organic.

The group scored a major marketing victory when it sealed a contract with the Aero Catering Service (ACS) of the Ngurah Rai International Airport. ACS supplies the meals for the airlines’ passengers.

The contract requires the group to supply ACS with 400 kilograms of fresh vegetables on a daily basis. It provides the members of the group with a steady monthly revenue of Rp 27 million (US$2,860).

Under this new scheme, the farmers negotiate the price of their products directly with their actual consumers.

“Moreover, we also receive our payment without any delay — directly and in cash,” a member of the group said. [end]

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  • pandebaik
    September 18, 2008

    Tau Om Anton pinter bahasa ini, kan bisa numpang translate ?

  • Embun
    November 26, 2009

    You have great articles on challenges faced by farmers in Indonesia. Keep up the great job!

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