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Church sponsored market helps Indonesian organic farmers

SEMARANG, Feb 17, 2017–Twice a week Petrus Legiman leaves home early in the morning on a motorbike fully loaded with vegetables packed in bamboo containers, and rides to a local market where he sells the crops from his farm.

Dozens of other farmers from several villages also sell their produce and products, such as vegetables, rice, fruit, and many homemade foods — all organic, at the Pasar Rebo (Wednesday market).

The market started in June 2016 and is managed by the Sanjaya Pastoral Center in Muntilan, Central Java, which comes under Semarang Archdiocese.

It covers an area of 1,000 square meters. During the early days the market opened only on Wednesdays, hence the name, but later due to high demand it’s now open on the weekend.

“I sell vegetables every Wednesday and Saturday here,” says Legiman, 51.

Siti Maemunah, a housewife from nearby Kalipepe, says she has been going to the market for the last two months after she heard people talking about it and the quality of the produce.

“I like the organic vegetables here because I believe organic produce is good for the health,” she says.

Agatha Widiarsih, a parishioner at St. Antony Church in Muntilan, also buys organic produce at the market because of the good quality, and freshness.

“Prices here are cheaper compared to supermarkets,” says Widiarsih, an expectant mother, adding that she will continue to buy organic vegetables and fruits for the health of her family.

Preserve nature

Father Alexius Dwi Aryanto, head of the Social and Economic Development Commission of Semarang Archdiocese, says the market is part of the archdiocese’s efforts to help local farmers and the environment.

“By encouraging organic farming we preserve nature,” he says.

A year before the market opened, Pope Francis through his encyclical Laudato si’, called on mankind to care of the environment, which has inspired Catholics throughout the world.

The market is in line with the archdiocese’s pastoral guidelines emphasizing an inclusive, innovative and transformative church, with the goal of establishing a more prosperous and dignified society, Father Aryanto says.

Similarly, Father Lambertus Issri Purnomo, the brains behind the market, says the idea was to improve the productivity of organic farmers who were left behind in the country’s development process.

The church trained and equipped them with necessary skills, including how to market their products to attract buyers in order to make more profit.

Farmers are king

The good thing about organic farmers having a designated place to sell their produce is that they control prices, unlike before when middlemen determined the price.

“Greedy middlemen usually take advantage of farmers, especially poor ones,” Father Purnomo said.

“Now I’m making a profit because I can determine the price of my vegetables. Before the market existed, middlemen bought them all below the usual price,” says Legiman.

According to the Indonesian Organic Farmers Association back in 2010 organic farmers in and around Muntilan were farming more than 239,000 hectares. However there was no special market where they could sell their crops.

“I hope this will grow and become a center for organic produce in Central Java,” says Father Purnomo.

The market’s coordinator Sigit Triyono says the church-run market has not only been effective in helping farmers sell their produce, its also allows the exchange of ideas with customers. Here farmers listen to what their customers need.

Triyono says market managers and farmers have to be creative to meet market demands, such as good packaging.

“Good packaging will elevate the price,” he says.

Agustinus Budiarto, secretary of Semarang Archdiocese’s Kedu deanery, says the local Social and Economic Development Commission is promoting the farmers’ organic produce through meetings, visits, and brochures sent out to communities.

“Our dream is that farmers will not only sell crops but also farming equipment,” such as seeds, fertilizer, organic pesticide says Burdiarto, adding they also want to encourage more interest in organic farming. (UCAN)

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