Agriculture is a major sector of the national economy for most Southeast Asian countries, especially Indonesia and Malaysia. These countries have a significant amount of arable land — 30% of the total land area of both countries — producing rice, corn, vegetables, fruits, and other crops. Most farmers, however, still depend on the continuous use of chemical fertilizers that decrease soil microbe populations and soil fertility. Moreover, chemical residues also accelerate regional water pollution and global warming.
Given this challenge, two YSEALI East-West Center program graduates, Fahmi Dwilaksono (Indonesia) and Lum Jason (Malaysia) recently created an innovation laboratory called FARM-iLAB through the support of East-West Center Alumni Incubator Program. This project promotes sustainable organic farming systems to young farmers in Southeast Asia. Dwilaksono and Jason believe that organic farming not only provides nutritious food, but also contributes to environmental resilience and natural resource conservation.
FARM-iLAB was piloted in Sumbawa, Indonesia and Perlis, Malaysia from June 25 until September 15, 2018. There were three main goals of this project. First, to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers and instead promote the use of compost and effective microorganism 4 (EM4) in organic farming. Second, FARM-iLAB empowered local farmers to process organic crops for their higher economic value and nutritional content. Lastly, the project offered local farmers entrepreneurship training to support their organic farming activities. These farmers now hold a deeper understanding of organic farming systems, entrepreneurial skills, and organic farming methods that are clean, safe, healthy, and produce tasty food.
The FARM-iLAB project was not free of unexpected challenges. Local farmers often prioritized earnings at first, and were uninterested in joining the project without the promise of specific private profit. Also, age became a barrier when some elder farmers showed reluctance to be trained by younger organizers. With the dynamic spirit of true environmental leadership, Dwilaksono and Jason surmounted these challenges and successfully assisted in the production of bok choy, celery, celery cracker, and a variety of other fresh organic products. These products were produced by farmers and students of the program, newly equipped with entrepreneurial skills and organic farming knowledge. Dwilaksono and Jason hope to expand FARM-iLAB in the future, using comprehensive strategy to contribute to the development of organic farming in their respective countries.
Fahmi Dwilaksono is a 2017 YSEALI Academic Fellow for Environmental Issue and Manager of Incubation and Technology Transfer at Sumbawa Technopark, Indonesia.