(Not) The Heavenly Land

A long-distance conversation via Skype with the kids made me think long and hard about Indonesia. It all started with an innocent question ...

A long-distance conversation via Skype with the kids made me think long and hard about Indonesia. It all started with an innocent question from my youngest.
Bunda, (Mommy) are the buildings really tall over there?”
I smiled. Couldn’t blame him, most people probably thinks that when the word ‘America’ is mentioned; tall skyscrapers, advanced technology, the latest and newest in gadgets, cars, planes, and weaponry.

On one hand, it is all true. But, that was not what greeted me as I landed in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a state in the heartland of America, to attend the International Writing Program. I feel so blessed to have arrived in this part of the country so I can told my kids a different view of America, one that is dotted with green parks and wide open cornfields.
However, my daughter begs to differ with my description of Iowa.
“How could that be Bunda? Isn’t America…” asked my daughter, followed by a lengthy description of her version of America.

My children’s question made me feel I need to know more about the farmland and farming in America so I can give them better answers.
The data I got from my brief research was rather surprising. The United States turned out to be the biggest exporter of farm goods. About 50.1% of the world’s corn supply came from this country. Not only corn, America also the biggest supplier of soy, controlling about 50.5% of the world’s export and also the biggest wheat supplier.
For me, these are highly interesting facts. Here is a country that has a strong technology and industry that did not forget their roots; farming.  We all need food and food mean farming; crops and livestock.

Curious, I did a further research. If America is the biggest agriculture exporter in the world, then which countries comes second, third, etc?
The result stunned me. The second biggest exported of agricultural goods is The Netherland. The tiny country who needs to build dikes and polder to protect and add land to increase its size, is currently the second biggest exporter of agricultural good in the world!
The next country on the list is no less surprising, it is Germany, a country who I always thought of as a luxury car maker and other high-tech equipment for small and large industries. Turned out they are also pretty nifty in the food industry. Not only for their own, but also ranked as top three exporters in the world. Next up is France, which is also another developed country in Europe.

This troubled me. How could these developed countries, which are technologically advance, are also interested in farming?
I think of Japan, a country where land scarcity drove the price exorbitantly high. Being a rich country, they could easily import every provision and yet the government insists on being self-sufficient.

I came to the conclusion that even the big, strong countries realize that self-sufficiency would mean self-defense. Food sufficiency means independence. With a strong agriculture sector, a country would be able to defend and support itself should economic instability, war, or force majeure happened.

So where is Indonesia, a large and supposedly bountiful country with fertile land aplenty but doesn't seem to care about farming and agriculture industry in general?
For example, Indonesia still imports rice, our staple food. Once, we managed to be self-sufficient, but not for very long. Soon it is back to importing rice. Recently tempeh, another staple food, was hard to find due to the soy crisis. The price of soy, the main ingredient for tempeh, rise sharply due to the rising American dollar. No surprises there considering we still import a major chunk of our soy from America and then some from Canada, Ukraine, Malaysia and China. Ironically, China imported their soy from Brazil which is then exported to Indonesia.

When, in actuality, what is it that we don’t have? Indonesia has 17.480 islands, of these, 4000 are still unnamed. If we can’t be bothered to name them, how can we even begin to maximize their potential?
Talking about soil fertility, I'm reminded of a Koes Plus song;
"Orang bilang tanah kita tanah surga –Tongkat kayu dan batu jadi tanaman"
"People say our land is heavenly land - sticks and stones turn into plants"

Allah has granted us with heavenly land, but what is it the point if we could not utilize it?
This country's vision and priorities needs to be straightened up. Besides agriculture or lack of it, there are other embarrassing data about Indonesia. We're a large maritime country, the total length of our beach line is the 4th in the world, and yet we still need to import salt from Singapore! A tiny country whose size is just a fraction of ours.

I am certain I am not the only one who feels this wa about our heavenly land. We hope that one day, our country would have a better vision, one that would maximize our potential but is grounded on patriotism, not on personal gain which would moves us further from our forefathers’ goal of becoming an independent country.


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Dedi Padiku: (Not) The Heavenly Land
(Not) The Heavenly Land
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