Theresia Sufa, The Jakarta Post, Bogor
Farmers in Tajurhalang, Bogor, West Java, never seemed to be able to get ahead until they switched to growing decorative plants at the advice of Diding Khaerudin.
"I was concerned by how hard farmers worked just to produce a few hundred thousand rupiah. Therefore, I encouraged them to grow decorative plants instead of taro, pineapples and bananas," Diding said.
Diding, who graduated from Muslim junior high school Tsanawiyah, used to work at the PTP XI state plantation at Mount Salak, but resigned in 1996. He found work as a gardener at a golf course in Tangerang, but was more interested in farming and eventually returned to his home village.
Like other farmers in the village, in 1997 and 1998 he planted bananas, pineapples and taro. But he quickly learned that the farmers were suffering losses as the result of the low prices of their produce.
A farmer might spend Rp 1.2 million on seedlings, fertilizer and transportation, for example, but only make Rp 200,000-300,000. As a result, the farmers were becoming poorer and poorer.
"We cannot make a living from farming. We don't even have the money to buy rice. We end up eating the produce we can't sell," he said.
Diding was determined to improve the lives of the farmers but he did not know how. Things started to change in 1999 when he met Benny Tjia, the technical advisor of PT. Mandiri Jaya Flora, who owned fields of Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) in Mount Salak valley.
"As soon as I met Pak Benny I knew I had found the answer. I learned all I could about growing plants," he said.
After receiving Rp 500,000 in start-up capital from Benny, Diding asked the other farmers in his village to join him. But most of them refused. They kept on growing bananas, pineapples and taro, and eating the fruit and tubers they could not sell.
Only five farmers agreed to grow the new plants and all of them received financial support from Benny. Diding then formed a farmers' group called Violces, making himself its head and the five farmers as members.
They grew various kinds of decorative plants and once a month Benny came to supervise them. The farmers chose the plants because they were easy to grow and there was a good market for them. A plant sells for Rp 3,000-10,000.
"I earn between Rp 1.5 million and 2 million a month. Some members make even more," Diding said.
Their success prompted other farmers in Tajurhalang village to follow suit. Today the Violces Farmers' Group has 180 members who grow many kinds of flowers and decorative plants, including anthurium. Their monthly turnover has reached Rp 120 million.
Diding and the other members of the farmers' group do not have to worry anymore about feeding their families or their children's education.
Tajurhalang village, which used to be dirty and gloomy, is now clean and neat. Even though the farmers live in simple houses, they are surrounded by beautiful gardens. On Saturdays and Sundays the village attracts visitors who come to buy the plants.
Observing the fast growth of the decorative plant business in the village, the Bogor regency administration finally disbursed Rp 75 million to help the Violces Farmers' Group expand their business.
"Thanks to the success of the gardening business I have been able to give my children a good education. One of them now works as a teacher," said Diding, who is often asked to talk at seminars at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture.