It takes a village
But how do they end when the bunting has faded and the politicians retreated to the cities? Duncan Graham reports from Blitar, East Java where one project hasn’t turned to mud.
In the late 1980s three men from the backblocks arrived at the Malang office of Made Dharsama Polak’s business consultancy, PT Dayapertiwi Mukti.
The men represented 22 households and their quest was basic and universal: They wanted a better life for their families and friends.
They also knew that worthy goal would never be achieved if they continued as casual farm laborers, forever tilling other men’s soil, hoping that one day the government might recognize their plight.
As an offshoot to his company, Made ran an NGO specializing in community based economic development programs. He put together some ideas and the men went home to ponder their next move.
The problems were significant and the barriers high. Many people lived in bamboo shacks in the forest. There was no village center, no services, and no government interest.
With no security or collateral the banks were equally indifferent. The people were just surviving.
Made’s plan required them to raise cash and apply for an interest-free loan. Each household tossed in Rp 200 (then about 10 US cents) and the group borrowed Rp 300,000 (about US $15).
They used this to buy coconuts, shred the flesh and process it to make cooking oil.
“We couldn’t eat the coconuts, even though we were hungry,” said Roesmiati, whose late husband Sutrisno was one of the trio that approached Made Polak. “Were we poor? Very! Everything had to be sold and the loan repaid.”
It was, so another was taken out, this time for Rp 750,000. Chickens were bought and a machine purchased to grate the coconuts.
An international conference of aid agencies held in Batu, near Malang and organized by Made Polak attracted NGOs from Southeast Asia, Europe and Japan. Dutch and German groups visited the project and offered more loans. Churches in the Dutch province of Friesland also helped.
Later Made helped negotiate with a local farmer for the group to buy 210 square meter blocks on time payment. From serfs to landlords – it was a significant psychological and economic shift.
The European agencies have since moved on, reckoning the project has gathered its own momentum and achieved its goals.
About 200 people now live in a village called Doko that never existed 23 years ago.
Doko squats on a hillside flanking a teak forest and a river that runs year round. The soil is fertile and the climate benign. It has electricity and tolerable roads. Most houses are brick or concrete with tiled floors. Some have satellite dishes. One looks grand.
This isn’t a snapshot of the new Indonesian middle class, but is a sketch of small scale and low-level rural prosperity. Although growing rice, corn, and other crops remains the core industry, the villagers have diversified.
Some residents have gone overseas or to other provinces, remitting money. Roesmiati is fattening three cows destined for slaughter and tends her peanut crop. Gita Iswantari makes kripik mbothe (cassava crisps) and sells these locally.
Jarni bought a motorbike and uses this as an ojek (taxi) ferrying people and goods around the district. The farmers prepare their own organic fertilisers and work their fields using local knowledge, not instructions from Jakarta.
Despite their success they still can’t access bank loans. The houses stand on community-owned ground and the families don’t have the certificates banks demand for security.
“We still need access to money to build our stock,” said Roesmiati. “There have been many stops in our journey. When you walk fast and slow than it can be painful.”
“This isn’t a special village,” said Made, “but it has some special people, determined, smart and hard working. I feel proud of what’s been accomplished.”
The poor are bankable
“Banks continue to ask for collateral but are becoming more flexible in providing loans,” he said. “Poor people are bankable if treated properly. I’ve only had four per cent default on loans.
“This country faces many challenges, but poverty reduction remains the most important.
“All other reforms, like education, the civil service and political liberalization will be judged by the extent to which they contribute to the raising of standards for all Indonesians, particularly the poorest.”
Made’s CV is impressive. His academic father, Major Polak was prominent in the Hindu community. He founded the Malang College of Economics, now a faculty of Brawijaya University.
Although trained as a lawyer Made Polak became concerned with environmental issues and poverty reduction. He got a scholarship to study enterprise development in Germany and later studied in Holland.
Since 1987 he has worked on water supply programs, agribusinesses, rice production, housing and small industry development. These projects in Java, Bali and West Timor have involved the World Bank and agencies in Europe, Canada and Australia.
In an address to directors of his company he said: “Political and economic space should be enhanced for civil society groups and other actors to improve the existing situation and work towards a more egalitarian and democratic society.”
First published in The Jakarta Post 16 Jan 2013
(Captions: View of Doko; Jarni on motorbike; Gita Iswantari makes kripik mbothe: Roesmiati with cows; Mohamad Prawoto; village stroll; Made Polak (blue shirt).)