‘So what if we have land?’, ‘We still do not have money’


Farmers may be self-sufficient in staples like rice but, like Mr Sudarmo, still suffer from the effects of rising prices and job layoffs all round

WHEN dawn breaks in the small village of Tunggak in Central Java, farmer Sudarmo and his wife Tari would have just finished their solat, or early-morning prayers.

Then, together with more than 100 other farmers from the village, they would make their way on foot down a dirt road of sand and gravel to thousands of hectares of crop fields that shimmer under the blazing sun.

Here, they till the blackish earth and plant anything from rice, pepper, corn and chilli to tobacco, until the sun sets.

Life has been good for Mr Sudarmo, who has lived in Tunggak for nearly half of his 70 years.

Last year, he had a good rice harvest of 900 kg, half of which he sold to make a tidy sum. And he doubled his profits by planting tobacco and corn, given the prevailing dry conditions.

That extra money was used to buy five goats. He already owns a cow and a plot of land the size of a football field.

But with the economic crisis, life has required painful adjustments – something he went through 30 years ago, but with a twist.

“In the 60s, there was no food,” he said, referring to the time when Indonesia underwent another major economic crisis with hyperinflation and high unemployment.

“Now we have food but no money to buy it. I never expected this to affect us farmers.”

A few months ago, many would have thought that farmers like him and the 1,000 other villagers in Tunggak would have remained insulated from the crisis, given that they were self-sufficient in staple items like rice.

But like ripples in a disturbed pond, the waves of economic malaise have radiated outwards, affecting both urban and rural areas. Mr Sudarmo now stands to lose all that he owns.

During the rice harvest last year, he made about 100,000 rupiah (S$23.30) a month.

But with the prices of necessities, including crop fertilisers, almost doubling in the last three months, and the harvest for the latest crop still two months away, his money is spent.

He has had to find alternative sources of income: One is to sell his goats.

“I wanted to sell them at a later date when they are older. I would have got a higher price,” he lamented.

Spartan living is the norm now.

No longer on his wife’s shopping list is kretek, the clove cigarettes which he used to smoke every night after a day in the fields. “I had to give up smoking so that we don’t starve,” he said.

He said that prices of staples had risen by 100 per cent, forcing him to cut his meals down from three to two a day.

His favourite meal is cold rice, sambal and fried tempeh. Now he does without tempeh because it has become too costly to fry, after the price of cooking oil shot up from 1,500 rupiah to 4,000 rupiah per litre.

He has also stopped drinking coffee because sugar is now too costly. Its price has risen from 2,000 rupiah to 4,000 rupiah a kg.

Life is extra hard because he also has to fend for his daughter, her three children and his son-in-law Suyono, a construction worker, who was laid off when his company in Riau went bust.

Mr Suyono is now hoping to go to North Sumatra or Malaysia to find a job.

All of them live in a four-room attap house that is shared with his cow.

Unblinking, the undersized and pock-marked man stared at his cow and declared that he might have to let it go for 2 million rupiah if his problems worsen.

He said: “We farmers are stupid people. We live for the day and never think about tomorrow. Now we are paying the price for this.”

He believes, however, that there is light at the end of the tunnel – the rice harvest.

However, rice sales alone would not help him catch up with the skyrocketing prices of other staples.

The only solution is for the government to do more to help society, he said.

“They must not forget that there are small people like us.”

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