The organic movement

Down to Earth No. 49, May 2001

A large proportion of Indonesia's farmers - especially outside Java - are organic farmers simply because they were not targeted or did not participate in the "green revolution" and are continuing traditional methods of farming. In other areas, farmers could no longer afford pesticides and fertilisers when prices shot up as a result of the economic crisis. This meant that arguments for organic farming methods started making a lot of sense. Some farmers’ groups and NGOs see organic farming as a way of protesting against the destructive impacts of the green revolution, and of liberating farmers from green revolution domination - dependence on chemical fertilisers, pesticides and other inputs.

However, public awareness of what "organic agriculture" means and consumer demand for organic crops is very low in Indonesia (there is no national certification or labelling scheme for organic food just as there is no labelling of GM produce). One of the few shops selling organic produce was set up in Yogyakarta in 1997 by the Consortium of Fair Trade Community, with funds from Oxfam. The shop owners, who return most profits to the farmers, say it is hard to find people willing to pay the higher prices charged for organic produce.

NGOs like Pesticides Action Network (PAN) Indonesia, SPTN-HPS, ELSPPAT (Bogor) and Sintesa in North Sumatra are trying to air the debate about agriculture in public whilst organising practical projects with farmers' groups. They are members of the national network of organic farmers (Jaringan Kerja Pertanian Organik) which includes both NGOs and farmers groups. Although not a member of IFOAM, the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (see, the national network works together with IFOAM on some activities.



The Indonesian organisations have strong links with the movement for land or agrarian reform and regard control over land and an open, democratic political environment as key ingredients for sustainability in agriculture. ‘Sustainable’ means not just environmentally sustainable, but also socially, economically and politically. Practical projects are used as an entrypoint to help farmers gain control over land and more bargaining power in the marketplace. Farmers are also organised to fight for their rights in particular and agrarian reform in general. (Jakarta Post 19/Feb/01; pers com with ELSPPAT)


ELSPPAT organic project

During a visit to London, ELSPPAT co-founder Any Sulistyowati described a small organic farming project the NGO ran on a plot of land near in Bogor:

"The project was aimed at providing an interest or occupation for unemployed informal labourers hit by the economic crisis. It started with a small piece of land, rented from a city-based land-owner, which was used to plant vegetable crops. The project then expanded to include some other plots owned by the farmers or, in the case of landless farmers, other peoples' land.

The products were sold by a co-operative (farmers' group) set up by the project through a box delivery system, which cut out the middlemen. The goods were priced somewhere between traditional market and supermarket prices. At first we sold the goods to NGO people, but then, by word of mouth, we were able to sell more and many housewives in the city started buying.

While we were doing this, we often got comments from older farmers nearby who, when they saw us using compost etc. said "what are you using those old methods for? We gave them up years ago!". However, these farmers were interested in the fact that we were not paying the high prices for chemical inputs and that we were cutting out the middleman to sell the goods.

The problem with organic farming, in our experience, is that we need a lot of organic fertilisers and so long as not all the farmers have cattle, they need to buy this. So our idea is to create an integrated organic farming system. But before we reach that stage, we should deal with the basic needs of the farmers. They cannot get enough money from farming activities, because their land is so limited.

Now, there are more opportunities for work in the informal sector. Especially near the village, there is a growing demand for construction workers for building Chinese tombs. Most of the young men have gone back to work, but there is an ongoing dialogue with neighbouring farmers about the merits of organic farming and co-operative selling that we want to develop further into a more sustainable project."


Further information and contact details



ISAAA in Asia: promoting corporate profits in the name of the poor, (October 2000) researched for Biothai, GRAIN, KMP, MASIPAG, PAN Indonesia, Philippine Greens and UBINIG.

University of Essex Centre for Environment and Society:

World Bank Roundtable meeting with the private sector December 2000: 
For a full list of the key points discussed see:

Joint NGO report on "Golden Rice"

CornerHouse report on GM trees "Genetic Dialectic

Pan-ECO organic farming project, East Java:


Indonesian organisations working on GM, food safety and/or organic agriculture issues: 
Jaringan Kerja Kearifan 
Jaringan Kerja Pertanian Organik : 
FSPI, SPSU (national and N. Sumatran peasants union): 
Bina Sarana