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The southern edge of Yogya: Rice farmer becomes onion farmer YOGYAKARTA - In the soaring heat of the countryside just north of the southern beaches near Yogyakarta I was driving towards the east on a small countryside road. This road is the only way out for the area directly west of the Opak River which causes the area to be fairly quiet until today. There are no main roads here, no buses and trucks but palm trees, open rice fields, parked bicycles and a strait black asphalt road which seems to disintegrate into water in the remote distance because of the scorching hot sun.

It is just that I drive around to catch some wind here, because there was none. There was no wind and there seemed to be no human activity as well. It seemed like I was the only one to interrupt the perfect quiet here, but that was just an appearance of course. Left and right of me small villages passed by where people were always to be found, working or just enjoying the rest of the day. Maybe a cigarette or two, but in these modern times a mobile phone will do the trick as well. Not that people call each other all the time, but playing some ringtones sometimes can be fun, since making that call is still not very cheap and smoking is more important.

In between the villages open landscapes with rice fields that reflect the sunlight. It is here that tonnes of rice are being produced for the Indonesian people. The soil here is perfectly horizontal, they are like land reclamation and stretch as far as the beaches Because of a long and wetter than normal wet season the harvest looks to be very good. Men and women are working during the hottest part of the day at several points near these rice fields. A part of the women is putting new rice plants into the fields, another part is harvesting the season's crops.

An almost deserted road runs through the countryside here. Left and right of the road is fertile volcanic soil which holds rice fields and red onions.
An almost deserted road runs through the countryside here. Left and right of the road is fertile volcanic soil which holds rice fields and red onions.

The men have the more heavy work. The in generally elder men - the younger ones prefer to spend their time waiting for a job in the big city - are working hard to maintain these beautiful rice fields. The mud is being flattened at some places so it is ready to be planted with new rice plants within a matter of days. Other fields see their surrounding system of dams being reinforced to they can be used as paths for yet another season.

Somewhere along the small countryside road I parked my motorbike under a tree where already some bicycles were parked. However a not-so-good moment to make pictures - the sun is almost directly above your head around this time of the day - I tried to take a look at the field of one of the hard working men anyway. He wasn't working on a rice field however, but on a field that has been growing onions for some time. Interesting, why not just rice, because that is the staple food here.

The man already saw me walking over the newly reinforced dam. In between putting his spade in the ground and raising some of the fertile volcanic mud he greeted me and continued his work. I made some pictures of the wide views here and decided to have a short conversation with the man. His cotton hat was the only protection he had against the sun, but that wasn't enough by far. At least it was something.

He was working hard preparing narrow beds of raised soil in which - several days from now - the new onions were to be planted, he told me. The through that he made were two spades wide, forty centimeters deep and were made so there would be enough water for the new plants throughout the dry season, but not too much because then the onions would rot away in the soil. That was a pretty drastic change; from rice to onions. He agreed with that, but the only clear motive to change he informed me about pretty quick. "Last year these red onions were priced at 13.000 Rupiah per kilo at highest, now they are still 9.000 Rupiah per kilo. Rice is just about 5.000".

However at the hottest of the day, this farmer works hard to prepare the fields for a new crop; red onions, instead of the plane old rice he used to grow on his fields until last season.
However at the hottest of the day, this farmer works hard to prepare the fields for a new crop; red onions, instead of the plane old rice he used to grow on his fields until last season.

That was a logical explanation for my question, but there were more vectors that were of importance. How much rice could one grow on such a field, how many harvests per year? Two harvests, the exact amount of rice he didn't know. "Less than the onions," he said with a smile. I was hoping that with him, because there were less onion plants on his field, there a part of it had to be used for proper irrigation and a bed with a width of 90 centimeters could only have six rows of onion plants. But if he was to receive twice as much per kilogram, why not?

The answer to that was a quick one. Around me more than half the area fit for agriculture was used for those red onions at the moment. "We all want to earn more money,' he almost whispered to me. The other part of the fertile soil was still used to grow rice. I remembered those days in high school when I actually paid attention to the teacher; demand and supply are of importance to calculate a proper price. However this area has always been the place for onions, they have become the dominant crop here now, which should end up negative for the price at the end.

Because I was talking to the man without a hat on a muddy dam I didn't really want to have an argument about that. To go back to rice now was no option as well. Sweat dripped down my back and chest and I was only talking to someone! That man just continued working as well. See, this kind of people earns my respect. Seven days a week they are working to earn a honest living in the first place and in second place they feed many other people here as well.

It is something to which I don't pay too much attention. A bag of rice you can buy in the warung around the corner, in the supermarket or at a local market, but you don't see all the work that is put into it to create that one bag of rice. Then cooking of the rice and eating it is nothing short of disrespect to the farmer. I know for sure that I would not be able to spend just one single day working on the fields like this. I am therefore thankful to the farmer that they want to do this work for me, however it will not always be with a good mood for sure.



Posted in Travel @ 20 April 2008 by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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