As the effects of climate change become more apparent, long-held traditions will need to be resurrected. Others will need to be abandoned.
April and May are the traditional harvest season for rice in Indonesia. As the rainy season starts to abate, farmers take to their field daily, scaring away scavenging birds and protecting the final few weeks of grain ripening.
But in recent years, things have not gone according to plan. Late-starting wet seasons have delayed sowing. Farmers have sometimes tried five times to get their crop in the ground, costing them labour, seeds and fertiliser. Rainy days and non-rainy days are alternating without a clear pattern. This year, the rain kept going. Very frequent and sometimes very intense, it rained until the end of June. Some paddy fields were flooded, and in several cases crops failed.
In Indonesia, climate change is only just emerging as a serious concern. In some cases, it’s seen simply as an environmental issue – the responsibility only of environmental agencies, but greater attention should be given by other related agencies and departments. They could incorporate climate change issues on their programs at any governmental level. Agricultural and rural development programmes could develop appropriate strategies for adapting to and mitigating the worst impacts of climate change.
At a November 2021 workshop organised by National Chung Hsing University, Taiwan, development planners and agricultural field officers appeared to have limited understanding of climate change issues, mitigation and adaptation strategies for the agricultural sector in Indonesia.
This at a time when farmers are increasingly facing daily challenges to their long-held farming practices. Prolonged drought and very high intensity rain are increasingly common and both of them damage food production. Farmers often have only passing familiarity with climate change science and predicted changes to weather patterns.
But the agricultural community has a collective knowledge, local wisdom and skills in choosing types of planting suitable for particular rainfall, or lack thereof, and potential damage due to typhoons. Selecting the appropriate timing and cultivation methods have long been practised by agricultural communities to reduce the risk of crop failure.
Indonesia is highly dependent on rice. In 2021 Indonesians consumed 35.6 million tonnes of the staple, an average of 124 kg of rice per person per year.
If Indonesia were to tap into farmers’ knowledge, it could develop appropriate and adaptive patterns to be able to guarantee food needs for all its people without neglecting the sustainability of existing natural resources.
Assisting farmers will not be an easy matter. There are 38.8 million farmers spread over 75,436 villages that are located in 7,232 sub-districts and 514 regencies/cities. Information and communication technology for agriculture and rural areas would allow farmers easier access to information and innovations about food production, prices, marketing and government programmes.
Alongside efforts and strategies to increase food production, cultural strategies may come into play.
Indonesia disposes of 23 to 48 million tonnes of food waste per year, according to the National Planning Agency – equivalent to 115 to 184 kilograms per person per year. In the last three years, Indonesia has imported almost 500,000 tonnes of rice per year, an amount that could be reduced if the country succeeded in reducing food loss.
It may also be helpful to take structured and comprehensive steps to change patterns of food consumption. This is certainly not a simple matter: it would take the whole nation to change its eating habits, including the cultural aspect of food.
In Indonesia, there is a tradition of cooking food in big batches, but this often leaves food to waste. And many households cook traditional foods relating to particular ceremonial events. In these cases, it is almost certain some will not be eaten and will become food waste.
But Indonesia may look to other countries for inspiration. For example, in Japan almost all elementary schools have school gardens that grow vegetables. It is a long-term educational model to teach children about food production. In Swedish culture it is normal to provide food for family but not for guests. While these ideas may not translate to Indonesia, it shows that food culture is not fixed.
Home gardens for the production of various food is a local tradition combining production, economic, ecological and socio-cultural functions. In rural Java, the tradition of home gardens is used to grow various vegetables, fruits and wood that can be used to meet daily needs. It also has ecological value due to the diversity of vegetation and conservation functions, has socio-cultural value because it allows the exchange and sharing of various products with neighbours and relatives and supports cultural ceremonies.
Indonesia has rich cultural traditions around food production and consumption. As climate change increasingly affects food supply, it will need to tap into both the ability to change as well as the practices of the past in order to meet with the future.
Subejo is a Researcher on Agricultural Extension and Rural Development, Vice Dean for Research, Community Service and Cooperation, Faculty of Agriculture of Universitas Gadjah Mada, Yogyakarta Indonesia. Dr. Subejo declared that he has no conflict of interest.