APSS - Past Seminars

Monday, April 21, 2008

Bisa Dewek (We can do it ourselves): Being Plant Breeders, Producing Our Own Ideal Seeds

MA. Yunita T. Winarto, Ph.D.

Academy Professor in Social Sciences & Humanities, Gadjah Mada University, Associate Professor in Anthropology, University of Indonesia


"Before we were the selectors of local seeds. Throughout the Green Revolution, we have only been the buyers and planters of government seeds. Now, we want to be plant breeders, producing our own ideal seeds," said farmer-breeders in the Regency of Indramayu, West Java Province, Indonesia. These statements encapsulate their experience in the history of rice planting, namely from 'free-producers and innovators' to 'planters and targets of government rice intensification programs' (in the past four decades) before arriving at the present where they reach out for the freedom of producing their own ideal seeds.

A farmer's skill, technology and knowledge in plant breeding are a very significant phenomenon in the history of rice cultivation in Indonesia which for long been appropriated by 'state agricultural plant-breeders/scientists'. How did the farmers acquire such skills? What are the advantages gained by being plant-breeders? Recognition and legitimacy of their skills, however, remain a distant possibility.

They also face the challenge of a recent government policy to produce hybrid seeds, as well as the continuing Green Revolution paradigm that relies heavily on high-level inputs. The 4-minutes ethnographic film tells the story of the farmers' struggle. It is produced by the Indonesian Integrated Pest Management Farmers Alliance (IPPHTI) of the regency of Indramayu in collaboration with the Undergraduate Program, Department of Anthropology, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, University of Indonesia.

Synopsis of the film

Prior to the Green Revolution, farmers in Indonesia selected and planted what they saw as their own local seeds. Since the Green Revolution was introduced in Indonesia in the early 1970s, the state has forced farmers to comply with a centralized, uniform, expensive and environmentally-damaging agricultural development program. Farmers were forced to purchase seeds produced by scientists and government seed-companies. The ethnographic film BISA DÈWÈK (We Can Do it Ourselves) portrays farmers’ production of their own ‘ideal’ seeds through cross-breeding.

The farmers in Indramayu Regency, West Java, began this activity in 2002 when an Indonesian NGO assisting farrmers, in collaboration with a Dutch agricultural university, wished to establish a participatory plant breeding program among the farmers. There were three steps to the program. First, the farmers were selected to be educated as farmer-trainers. Second, these farmer-trainers returned to Indramayu and taught participatory plant breeding at farmers’ “schools without walls” (Participatory Plant Breeding Farmer Field Schools), as well as educating other farmers to be farmer trainers. Third, all the farmer-trainers spread out this new skill and knowledge to farmer groups in the other eleven districts in Indramayu. Despite the advancement in their knowledge and practices, the farmers experienced hardships at the follow-up stage of the program. First, without assurance of the ongoing financial support from the NGO in the middle of their experimental seed selection program, they were unsure if they could rent sufficientg land. Second, the regency agricultural officials questioned the ‘legality’ of farmers’ plant breeding production and threatened the farmers to ‘close-down’ their activities. On the other hand, the farmers were enthusiastic to disseminate their new skill and knowledge to fellow farmers, the youth, and other parties, including the bureaucrats. Facing these constraints, could they disseminate such new skill and knowledge and persuade the bureaucrats to acknowledge and support them?These were the questions posed to me at the time I revisited their place in early 2006.

My original intention was to observe such a significant phenomenon in the history of agricultural development in Indonesia. In the Green Revolution era, it was thought that plant breeding should be in the hands of scientists, not the farmers. If farmers resumed plant breeding I was interested in discovering the changes in their knowledge, practices, and position vis-a-vis those in power. The plant-breeding production also stimulated farmers to rediscover their old local seeds. The farmer plant-breeders learned in the ‘schools’ that they were not allowed to cross-breed the government’s seeds on their own. To avoid such ‘illegal’ breeding, the farmers looked for their own local varieties to be selected as the parental seeds in cross-breeding. I assumed that a ‘reinvention of the traditional knowledge of local rice varieties’ would be a reality. How would this phenomenon occur and sustain within the existing Green Revolution paradigm in Indonesian agriculture? Such was the question motivated me to find the answer.

By being experts in adopting the modern scientific knowledge in plant breeding, the farmers were able to reinvent their local varieties. They used the local varieties as either the ‘father’ or the ‘mother’ varieties to be bred. By doing so, they made the ‘local generated knowledge’ be lively again. The farmers’ focus was looking for the ‘best ideal traits’ among the varied range of segregating progenies produced from the initial cross breeding. In farmers’ eyes, their criteria—including high productivity, form of grain, maturity-age of plants, resistance towards pests and diseases, aromatic and palatable taste, and adjusted to local agro-ecological conditions—were more suitable to their own needs and local ecosystem condition rather than the high yielding varieties. However, the activation of old memories within the new scheme of plant breeding on the basis of their needs and interests does not automatically yield any outputs without the material substance (see Winarto and Ardhinato 2007).

Responding to farmers’ questions and request for any help I could provide, I began to think of producing an ethnographic film that could also be used by the farmers to achieve their goals. With the assistance of some young anthropologists and students from the University of Indonesia, I finally agreed to collaborate with the farmer plant-breeders to produce a film while also carrying out my own research. I also provided an opportunity to the students and young anthropologists to carry out their individual research.

Such was the beginning of the collaborative ethnographic research and film: BISA DÈWÈK. Farmers themselves chose the title because the meaning—we can do it ourselves—expressed their pride, empowerment, ownership, and agency they achieved through the program. They were also actively participating in proposing the story-line, defining the informants to be interviewed, the scenes and events to be filmed, and voicing their evaluation, comments, and suggestions in improving the film. Not only that. The farmers gradually came to understand our interests and questions and assisted us in data collection. The data and information we collected together provided a rich input to improve the stories and events to be filmed. Without the farmers’ active participation, it would not be easy for the young anthropologists to accomplish their works in an effective and efficient manner. The film: BISA DÈWÈK presents the results of such a collaborative work.

I first came to the village of Kalensari, Widasari district in Indramayu in 1996 to carry out an observation on the farmers’ research and experiments in developing an efficient and effective control strategy against a pest known as white rice stem borer in the so-called Research Action Facility program under the auspices of the Indonesian FAO-Intercountry Program.

The research and collaborative program consisting of ethnographic fieldwork, film documentation and dissemination, was carried out through one and a half-year collaborative work from June 2006 up to the end of November 2007 supported by the University of Indonesia, the Embassy of Finland, and the Academy Professorship Indonesia (KNAW-AIPI). Rhino Ariefiansyah agreed to assist me as the film maker. Two undergraduate students (Hestu Prahara and Syamsul Ma’arif) of the Department of Anthropology, University of Indonesia (UI) studied the transmission of knowledge through film and the extent to which the knowledge become the basis for action. They also examined the creation of social institution as a consequence of the program. One Masters student from the Graduate School of Gadjah Mada University (Zudan Rosyidi) joined the team and focused his research on the development of farmers’ discourses throughout the program. Hanantiwi Adityasari documented the farmers’ activities and the two teams (the UI and the farmers)’ collaborative works in still-photos. While taking the video-shooting and disseminating the film, the team members observed the farmers’ activities throughout their collaboration with the UI team, as well as their struggle to gain the authorities’ support and official recognition. Another young anthropologist (Imam Ardhianto) assisted me in carrying out my observation on the dialectics between the scientific and local knowledge through farmers’ participatory-plant-breeding practices, and farmers’ creativity and empowerment within the existing context of power relations.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Hybrid Economy

Dr Jennifer Alexander

Department of Anthropology, RSPAS, ANU


This paper explores the hybrid composition of the entrepreneurs involved in the furniture industries of Jepara in the 1990s. It examines not only the interface between various ethnic groups, Javanese, Indonesian Chinese, Europeans, and Asians, but also the nature of the material culture they were involved in reproducing, how it has evolved over time and the development of economy, material culture, and local consumption patterns up to the time of the 1997/1998 Asian economic crisis. The research was based on multi-sited ethnographic fieldwork from 1991 to 1995 during the course of which I attempted to document the development of an export oriented economy in a region with a long tradition of producing wood handicrafts and furniture for local and international markets. The paper highlights transnational links in economic and cultural processes between global cities and Indonesian towns and villages and the consequent hybridization of economy and culture.

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Name Game - or the Years of Living with no One to Blame

Tintin Wulia

Postgraduate Researcher, Fine Art, RMIT University


Born and bred in a Chinese-Balinese family that survived 1965's Indonesia, the discrepancies between the personal and the political have been central to my practice as an artist. Recounting the past ten years of my artistic research, in this essay – and the presentation on which it is based – I will illustrate how I found the experiences which accompanied the regime change of 1998 as complementary to the traumatic events and mass killings of alleged communists in 1965. I will further show how reflecting on 1965 can help us re-contextualise the newly revived ‘Chinese-Indonesian’ identity within 'Indonesian' identity, by placing it as a common ground with many ‘non-Chinese Indonesians'. Tintin Wulia is an artist and filmmaker who was born in Bali in 1972. She was brought up studying music, and trained as an architect and film composer in Indonesia and the United States. Since 2000, her works have been exhibited and collected internationally including the International Film Festival Rotterdam, New York Underground Film Festival, Pusan International Film Festival, Australia’s SBS Eatcarpet, Istanbul Biennial, Yokohama Triennial, Eindhoven’s Van Abbemuseum, Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Spain’s Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Castilla y León, and London’s Institute of Contemporary Arts (from http://tintinwulia.com).


Monday, March 3, 2008

Direct Elections, Political Parties and Interest Groups:The Case of East Java Governor Election in Indonesia

Kacung Marijan

Professor in Political Science, Airlangga University Visiting Fellow, HASS UNSW at ADFA


This paper attempts to describe and explain the role of political parties and an interest group, namely Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), in the East Java direct governor election. Prior to the implementation of direct elections in Indonesia, all governors and head of districts/ mayors, were elected by local parliaments (DPRD). Since 1 June 2005 people can directly elect the district heads. In this new arrangement, the position of political parties and voters, is important bacause the political parties are the main institution which have the right to nominate their candidates for their electino commission. In reality, the nominated candidates cannot rely fully on their party as a political engine to attract more votes. In direct elections, the electability of candidates is also determined by their individual popularity. In addition, the extent of support the candidates can expect depends on their ability to use mass organisations which have a large number of members as a support base. On the basis of the first round of the East Java governor election this year, this paper argues that the succesfull candidates were those who were able to mobilise support from NU, a prominent grassrootmass organisations in East Java.