Sat, 27 Mar 2010

From: The Jakarta Post

By Nana Rukmana, The Jakarta Post, Cirebon
The regency administration in Cirebon, West Java, has allocated 10,000 hectares of land for organic farms, an official announced Friday.

Local agriculture agency head Ali Effendi said 400 farming communities would be trained in several stages over the next five years to manage the organic farms.

"We aim to open up 2,000 hectares of new organic farmland each year," he said, adding the farms would be developed in 40 districts across the regency.

Ali said the regency administration, known as one of the country's rice producers, had set aside Rp 1.5 billion (US$150,000) for the program.

The money will be used to assist farming communities buy organic fertilizer and digesters to produce organic urea.

Ali said the planned organic rice paddies were aimed at expanding the current amount of farmland in the regency, now estimated at 45,000 hectares, as well as helping farmers deal with water shortages during the dry season.

"The organic farming system is expected to make the fields more fertile and drought-resistant," he said.

The new farming methods are also expected to help restore soil quality depleted due to years of chemical fertilizer and pesticide seepage, Ali said.

"We hope to be able to gradually restore the level of nutrients in the soil by applying organic farming methods," he said.

The land earmarked for the project will be rain-dependent rice paddies not served by irrigation channels.

"We've already managed to turn some non-irrigated farmland into organic farmland," Ali said.

He added the organic farming project would begin during planting in this year's dry season.

"We expect the planting season to begin at the end of April," he said.

"We've prepared a 2,000-hectare rice paddy just for this purpose."

Ali said the organic farming system would be of great benefit to farmers in terms of lowered production costs and higher yield prices.

Organic rice currently trades for between Rp 7,000 and Rp 10,000 kilogram - far higher than non-organic rice, which goes for between Rp 5,000 and Rp 6,000 a kilogram.

"Farmers can also cut production costs by up to 50 percent," Ali said.

"Non-organic rice farming costs between Rp 5 million and Rp 6 million a hectare, compared to only Rp 3 million to Rp 4 million a hectare for organic rice farming."

Farmers affiliated with the Andalan Farming Community (KTNA) in Cirebon regency were upbeat about the organic farming project.

KTNA deputy head Sa'adi said the new system could serve as an opportunity to improve farmers' welfare as well as help overcome chronic water shortages in several farming districts in the regency, including Kapetakan, Gegesik, Gebang, Mundu, Pangenan, Arjawinangun and Susukan.

"In those areas, organic farming would be far more suitable for the farmers during the dry season, because organic crops can tolerate drought better," he said.

Sa'adi also called on the government to roll out a public education program to teach the farmers about organic farming and the ways in which it could benefit them, pointing out the majority of farmers knew very little about it.

"Farmers in Cirebon have long been accustomed to non-organic farming," he said.

"They need more knowledge on organic farming, so we urge the government to intensify its public awareness campaign."