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Gede Jutawan, vegetable and fruit farmer, Bali, Indonesia

The journey of Gede Jutawan, a young man from a traditional farming family in Bali, from poverty and hardship to becoming a successful entrepreneur as a fruit and vegetable farmer, is nothing short of miraculous.   Today, Gede owns a fertile 2.5 hectare organic farm in Mayungan called Bali Rungu or “Bali Cares”.  Gede was born in a farm family in Mayungan which is about 3 km from Baturiti and about 40 km. north of Denpasar. Though blessed with good soil and rainfall, many farmers in Bali had adopted chemical farming in recent decades leading to soil depletion and dependency on chemicals.  Gede’s family was always non-chemical because they had so little land and produced only to eat, trade and sell in their village.  Most farmers grow just 3-4 crops and sell them to a middleman at a distribution point in their vicinity. The middleman takes the produce to the city markets and corners the major profits as well.  Gede’s family made about 3,000,000 rupiah ($333) each year from vegetable sales before he started farming organically.

Gede finished high school and then lived and worked in Ubud for four years doing manual work in the construction industry. In 2005 Gede was sponsored to attend Green Hands Field School 14 day Permaculture course in Aceh. In the field school he had learnt about waste management, seed saving, techniques for growing and natural pest control. This was the turning point in his life. From being a young man with no money and no future, he returned more knowledgeable about Permaculture and determined to make it as an organic farmer.

Journey as an organic farmer: Gede began his farm with 5 ares of land loaned to him by his father. After seeing Gede’s determination and hard work, his father started taking him seriously. With the green signal from his father, Gede began to improve his family’s 35 are of farm land. He reconditioned the soil and built a cow shed to maximize the use of cowdung and cow urine for increasing the soil’s fertility and output. He quickly had more customers than he could grow for on 35 are and he found another piece of land and borrowed to purchase it (.4 are equals one acre of land in Bali).

At Bali Rungu, Gede grows more than 60 kinds of vegetables, herbs and fruits. Various types of lettuce, arugula, asparagus, Bok Choi, beans, beetroot, broccoli, coloured capsicum, cauliflower, carrots, cucumber, cherry tomato, daikon radish, eggplant, kale, leek, peas, pumpkins, spinach, snowpeas, sweet potato, tomato, zucchini and more are grown. Unusual vegetables include rainbow carrots, Korina lettuce, summer squash and mini eggplant. He grows western herbs like oregano, parsley, rosemary, seledri (local celery type leaf plant ), dill, chives and basil which are in great demand in the restaurants that cater to a western and tourist clientele. Local herbs like lemongrass, mint and coriander are also grown. Among fruits he grows avocado, papaya, mulberry, guava, passion fruit, pineapple and tamarillo. Gede’s owns his farm and he does the work himself with the help of farm workers. He currently employs 5 full time and 4 part time men and women from his village.  The first year, he could not find people from his village ‘to work so hard’.  So he contracted 4 men from Lombok for one year.  At the end of the year, men in his village wanted to work for him.  Today, women help with packaging because of their nimble fingers and artistic orientation. 

With regular orders from hotels, supermarkets and individual customers Gede has learnt to plan his production in advance and draw up a planting schedule for each of the vegetables that he has been asked to supply. This way he can keep a track of what needs to be planted when. However, this is still very difficult because buyers also do not have a steady demand as well.  His harvesting methods and techniques have also been refined over time. He now picks the green beans and lettuce when they are tender because his customers like them tender.

Both in terms of organic cultivation and in terms of interaction with the businesses in the towns, Gede has come a long way since 2005 and has become more confident about running his farm, making timely deliveries and keeping his customers happy. He says his reputation is most important to him.

Gede’s organic methods: Gede makes and saves his own seeds. With his seed bank he does not have to buy seeds for his crops each time,  except for two varieties. As Gede decided to grow vegetables that were in demand by the restaurants and hotels in the towns of Bali, he had to purchase the initial lot of seeds from reliable seed companies in Australia and America. He then saved his seeds and started his seed bank. He has also refined his methods of vermicomposting and growing by trial and error. As his land was relatively virgin and chemical free he did not have to wait long for a bountiful organic harvest from his land.

He uses raised beds, bamboo from his land for stakes and structures, plastic tunnels and polyhouses for growing many of his vegetables and herbs. He used rice straw and rice husks for mulch for a few years but not anymore because he can no longer find non-chemical sources. Gede makes his own compost from the manure of the many cows he owns, some cooperatively owned with a supporter, and saves his seeds. He currently has 13 cows and calves on his farm and they are looked after very well. He grows soybean plants and then cuts the plants back for green manure to add more nutrients to his soil naturally. Although rarely needed, some insect repellent recipes were developed with information from the old people in Gede’s village and are made with local leaves.  He also grows comfrey to feed the soil, mulching, and compost tea.  He never uses anything for fertilizer or pesticides that is not grown on his farm.  His water is clean spring water from underground aquifers. It is pumped up by a pumpset. This is important because other farmers have only subak water that is polluted from chemical rice farming, except for rain water. Gede has made a small pond which he fills with pumped up water, but it is not sufficient to irrigate the whole farm. In the near future he can have a larger pond or tank for harvesting rainwater which will suffice for the entire farm.

Initially the older farmers in his village were skeptical about Gede and his organic project and laughed at him.  His farm’s success has shown the local villagers that while organic farming has a few risks the costs are less, and the rewards greater than in chemical farming.  Yet many others who want to grow organically do not start because it is harder work.  They are used to easy chemical farming. Gede never had help from the government, no subsidies or grants, only his hard work. Gede works for 14 hours a day on his farm. Although it is gruelling hard work, Gede has reaped the rewards of his labour within a short period of time.  

Marketing: Gede helped setting up of a weekly cooperative farmers market in Ubud to give him and others a new selling forum that they all needed. This market was created to support small independent farmers and businesses that were committed to organic produce but did not have the funds, knowledge and opportunity to market to a larger customer base and compete with large businesses. Darsih Sawnick, the manager of Indonesia Organic (now his better half) helped Gede right from the beginning, encouraged him, advised him and helped open doors for him. Without the moral support of Darsih and others, Gede would not have been able to achieve so much in such a short period of time. The rest has been his own hard work and determination.

The first week Gede sold produce worth about 300,000 rupiah ($33) at this market and today sells produce worth about 2,000,000 at the Saturday market and about 800,000 on Wednesdays at the added mid-week market. In 2008 he purchased a used truck for deliveries. 

There is an increasing demand in Bali for organically grown vegetables from hotels, restaurants and individuals who are going “organic” for health reasons. This includes both expats and the Indonesian community.  Although Gede is aware of the big farms who have a large staff, high–tech facilities, refrigerator trucks, permanent green houses, marketing teams, steady buyers and foreign funding, he is not intimidated by them. Today he is selling more than 60 kinds of vegetables, fruits and herbs to hotels, restaurants, bakeries, yoga groups, organic markets, and to individuals. Gede has a driver to drive his truck for deliveries, and now he has second driver and rental truck when he has deliveries in a broad area that he cannot handle with one truck. This just shows the volume of his turnover today. 

Gede gets his customers from his blog, from the Indonesia Organic website (www.indonesiaorganic.com) which was launched in 2010, and from referrals from people that have met him and/or purchased from him.  He has just contracted (rented for 15 years) another 35 are of land.  Ten years ago, he never thought he would own 2.5 hectares of his own land, and he has just paid off his loan on that new land.  He never thought he would be having lunch with international managers of hotel chains to discuss being their organic supplier, but that’s happened and Gede has taken it in his stride. His love and respect for nature was inborn and he has remained a true Balinese at heart, living in harmony with his culture and its customs.

His vision: Gede wants to teach young people in Bali about how to grow healthy food and caring for their environment and the health of their families. His farm gets a lot of visitors each year as word about Bali Rungu has spread. Gede enjoys his interaction with people from all around the world.  He wants to make a place people can stay overnight or for a week and be tourists in the area, and an organic restaurant for people touring the area.  He is also considering setting up a basic food processing unit on his farm for making simple things like sauces, jams and squashes from the fruits and vegetables that he grows.  His evolution as an organic farmer and as an entrepreneur in such a short period of time has been remarkable, and his creativity and talent have shone through in every challenge that he has faced and overcome.

Jutawan means “millionaire” in the local Balinese language and Gede surely feels like one with the success, the pride and respect that his organic farm have brought him. Along with Darsih, his better half, he will carve out his own unique niche in the social and economic life of the beautiful isle of Bali, and inspire all those who wish to practice natural organic farming.

Email: balirungo@yahoo.com, darsih@indonesiaorganic.com