Coming to a plate near you: T-bone Lombok Duncan Graham
Could Indonesia achieve food self-sufficiency within four years? That’s the government’s goal with Rp 18 trillion (US$1.93 billion) allocated.
Ten per cent of the budget has been earmarked to improve beef production, with Lombok and Sumbawa destined to become the islands of one million cows by 2014. Duncan Graham reports on this slice of the ‘food resilience’ program:
The cattle counters reckon they’re already halfway there. However there are huge fences to jump if the goal is to be reached, as Mataram University academic Dr Sudirman readily admitted.
“First we have to make sure that all farmers have enough to eat,” he said. “Otherwise they’ll be saying to us: ‘You ask us not to sell our cows so numbers can increase. But do you want us to die because we have no money?’
“There’s a culture of poverty in the province of West Nusa Tenggara (NTB) and we have to change the people’s mindset. That’s going to be a really big job. There are many difficulties.”
Indeed. If all were to be listed this story would spill onto another page, so let’s highlight just a couple - country conservatism and farmer mistrust.
Indonesian rural folk got badly burned during the Soeharto era’s Green Revolution. Then heavy-handed bureaucrats forced farmers to abandon traditional practices, grow new crops and soak these with costly chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Now the rule of the gun has passed they’re going back to the old ways.
“We’ve learned the lesson,” said rural sociologist Dr Rosiady Sayuti. “Change has to be done carefully and slowly. We think the land can eventually support 1.5 million cattle and hope this will boost farm incomes by 50 per cent.”
Sounds worthy, but the base is low. There are 340,000 farmers in NTB. Their average income is less than Rp 1 million (US $110) a month.
To help the 4.5 million people in Lombok and adjacent Sumbawa adjust to sharing their tiny islands with so many belching bovines the local government sent seven experts to garner tips in New Zealand, a world leader in efficient farming.
The delegation, led by Dr Sayuti, head of the NTB planning board, covered disciplines as diverse as veterinary science, agriculture, politics, administration and law.
Why law? “Because adat (traditional community law) still applies in rural areas and must be considered,” said Professor Galang Asmara, Dean of Mataram University’s Faculty of Law. “For example, adat prevents the sale of animals under two years old and is involved in determining ownership of cattle and responsibilities in husbandry.”
Not all know-how from lush and temperate NZ can be easily transferred to the NTB, a tropical zone with limited rainfall and unusual animal diseases.
In the South Pacific islands there are five million beef cattle and 4.5 million dairy cows - and half a million fewer people than in NTB. Some Indonesians are already working on NZ farms and expect to take Kiwi skills back to their homeland.
Governor Zainul Majdi initiated the million moos plan in 2008. It has a Rp 10 billion (US $1.1 million) budget last year and a Rp 15 billion (US $1.6 million) allocation this year. Most of this money is going on subsidies to farmers. Technical aid is being given by Australia.
Traditionally farmers in Lombok have three to five cows kept in stalls known as kandang. The bureaucrats want farmers to form cooperatives with 40 or 50 animals. Then they’ll be given a lusty young Bali, Brangus or Simmental bull with good genes to boost herd quality.
Artificial insemination using semen from top bulls known to be efficient converters of grass into meat is also being used. Controlled mating is an important factor in improving management.
In Sumbawa, which is three times bigger than Lombok, mini ranches may be organised with the cattle grazing in paddocks. New high-value crops are being planned to feed the cows. Till now they’ve been chomping low-protein native grasses, usually cut and carted by their carers.
To keep crops thriving through the dry months irrigation projects are being considered, tapping underground water reserves. Big dollars will be required. Investors are being wooed.
With high yielding crops and new land opened to the plough the days of buffalo power will be numbered. So tractors will be needed, beyond the financial reach of individuals. Hence the importance of cooperatives where resources and equipment can be shared.
Vets are in short supply – only 150. Unless more can be recruited they’ll be run ragged, confusing snouts with rumps.
The more the delegation talked to The Jakarta Post in the NZ capital Wellington about the issues they’re encountering, the more the adequacy of the Rp 10 billion budget diminished.
Lombok has the exclusive right to export cows to other provinces – a trade first started in 1831. The idea is that NTB can become the nation’s quality livestock bank, helping meet Indonesia’s growing hunger for beef. Last October Lombok held a ‘calf harvest’ to show off its animals and rustle up interest in the ambitious cow-led recovery program.
Inevitably a development slogan has been coined – one cow, one calf, one year. Brain curdling tables and targets, graphs and strategies have been devised to educate the locals.
There’s another disparity: NZ farmers are the country’s elite with political clout. Well-established farms generate huge wealth. But in Indonesia farmers are way down the status ladder. If the NTB plan is to get legs it will need smart young hands-on people to understand the possibilities and convert power-point presentations into wells and pumps, fences and fertile fields.
Governor Zainul used the ‘calf harvest’ to prod another message. Mataram mall cowboys hanging around the city at night hoping to lasso a lovely should be heading back to the land and a halal (allowed) occupation.
But how are they going to keep them down on the farm after they’ve seen Kuta? Indonesians who get their hands dirty scratching for cash don’t score in the social hierarchy. Better keep fingers clean, find a government job with uniform and pension and be respected by neighbors.
“Government policy is to encourage young people to undertake further education and upgrade their knowledge of farming and the new techniques,” said Dr Sayuti. “We have to build awareness that farming is an essential and valuable profession for the nation . It should be a job done with pride and attract respect.
“You can be an optimist or a pessimist. I’m the former.”
(Picture above NZ agriculture is intensive: Muhamad Ansori (left) and Arik Asmedi, both from Blitar, East Java, milk hundreds of cows every day in NZ. )
(First published in The Jakarta Post 23 February 2010)