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When Traditional Rice Farming Symbolises ‘Resistance’

Rice is the second most produced grain in the world: around 480 million tones was produced in 2013. At 70 million tonnes, Indonesia is the third largest producer, behind China and India. The Indonesians posses a multitude of words to say 'rice', and even have a 'goddess of the paddy fields’. Known as Dewi Sri, she is venerated from West Java all the way to the East in the island of Bali. Despite its production volumes, Indonesia continues to import around a million tones per year due to its high levels of consumption of 130 kg per person per year compared to 30 kg in Japan. This level of consumption was the result of the 'green revolution’ put into action under the Suharto dictatorship from the 70s to the 90s. The policies obliged farmers to use chemical fertilisers and imported hybrid seeds. As a result rice became the staple food for the entire archipelago, even in regions that traditionally did not cultivate rice. Other grains such as sago and cassava were sidelined, they were seen to be food ‘of the poor’. That period saw the loss of thousands of varieties of native seeds. Fortunately the region of Sukabumi in the south west of Java did not fall prey to these policies of 'intensive monocultures' that only relied on a very small variety of breeds. In particular are the villages, Sinar Resmi and Cipta Gelar, situated high up on the slopes of the Halimun volcano. For several generations, these farmers planted ancestral seeds without any chemical fertilisers, and limited themselves to one harvest a year, a practice contrary to the three harvest done by other chemically ‘enhanced’ regions. They live self-sufficiently using the forest and its resources. In the region of Sukabumi are many research centres that try to solve, by different means, the dramatic effects of this 'unique rice dictatorship' that continues to affect the environment. In recent years they have organised a rice-seed bank establishing the 68 different local varieties ensuring a legacy of biodiversity for the future. Their agriculture is an art and philosophy of life favoured by their ancestral religion and their numerous rituals, including one dedicated to the Paddy field Goddess, Dewi Sri. Today she has become an example and a model for all the many natural earth and natural seeding defence movements.

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