Yunita T. Winarto, Rhino Ariefiansyah,Universitas Indonesia
James J. Fox, Australian National University
At the beginning of the 2012/13 rainy season, farmers in Indramayu—members of the Indramayu Rainfall Observers Club formed in 2010 — began planting sesame on the bunds of their rice fields. Sesame was once planted as part of Indramayu’s rice ecosystem prior to the introduction of the Green Revolution. When the idea of planting sesame was introduced to the farmers in September 2012 as a way to attract parasitoids of the brown planthopper, the question was the availability of seeds. Sesame growing stopped in the early 1970s. A farmer in the Purworejo regency in Central Java has been cultivating sesame for sale and to produce commodities such as sesame oil, sesame sauce, and sesame snacks and he supplied the seeds. This initiative to plant sesame in Indramayu marks the return of sesame to this north coast of Java after a hiatus of more than 40 years.
Growing sesame on rice bunds as an ecological engineering technique to restore parasitization ecosystem service in rice fields was first experimented in Jin Hua, China. The follow up research found that sesame flowers increase parasitoid search and the parasitoids live longer. In addition sesame was also found to promote Cyrtorhinus egg predation. Sesame growing is now in several provinces in China.
Not all farmers planted sesame directly in their fields. Some farmers grew the seeds in their house gardens or in poly-bags to see how the plants would grow and whether they really attracted bees. Several farmers, however, decided to grow sesame directly on the bunds of their fields. A video of farmers planting sesame is available on YouTube.
“The planting is easy, there is no need to provide extra fertilizers,” said one farmer. The growth of the crops soon invited queries from fellow neighbors about the value and usefulness of sesame.
What were the benefits farmers obtained from growing sesame? Farmers claimed that their fields were no longer infested by brown planthopper or that there was a much lower degree of infestation compared to 2010-2011 when there were outbreaks of the brown planthopper. “90% without any brown planthopper infestation,” said one farmer comparing the conditions of his field with the severe outbreaks he experienced earlier. The sesame plants also functioned as a ‘fence’ to protect the paddy from the intrusion of goats and sheep. “The goats tried to eat the leaves, but soon afterwards they did not want to return, probably because the leaves were bitter. My rice crop was saved from their encroachment.” Another farmer claimed that his field was free from rat attacks since he also sprayed ‘the urine of goats’ onto the crops. One farmer’s wife made onde-onde (a local sesame snack) and sold these snacks at village stalls. Another farmer harvested 8 kg of sesame seeds and sold it at Rp 10,000/kg.
Would farmers continue plating sesame? “Now the seeds that have fallen on the ground grow by themselves, though the growth is not as good as in the rainy season,” said one farmer. As a result, farmers did not plant sesame in the dry season but they intend to replant the sesame in the next rainy season (2013/2014).
Farmers in the Indramayu regency have been spraying pesticides prophylactically since the introduction of the Green Revolution in the early 1970s. Spraying pesticides has become an integral part of their farming practice. The question to ask is this: Did the farmers growing sesame reduce their pesticides use?
One farmer said that he did not spray chemical pesticides at all and only sprayed a botanical pesticide once. Usually he sprays a mix of pesticides three times a season; combining a pesticide with Dimehipo (400g/l) and another with Klorpirifos (200 g/l)). Another farmer said that he used to spray more than 6 times per season, but now he sprayed far less based on his observation of the reduced pest population in his field. However, he still mixed pesticides: using a pesticide with Fipronil (50g/l) and another that had a combination of Klorantraniliprol (100g/l) + Tiametoksam (200g/l). Since the fields were infested by another pest, white rice stemborer, farmers did not entirely stop spraying. One farmer purposely changed from an ‘expensive’ brand of pesticide (Dimehipo 500g/l) at Rp 60,000.00/l to a ‘cheaper’ brand (Dimehipo 400g/l) at Rp40.000/l.
Abandoning the use of pesticides was not easy for farmers in the midst of an ongoing infestation of another pest — rice stemborer — in 2012-2013. Reducing the use of pesticides, changing brands of pesticides, and replacing chemical pesticides with botanical pesticides were some of the changes that farmers made.
Most ‘conventional’ farmers, however, kept on spraying pesticides prophylactically. Towards the end of the rainy season when a beautiful blanket of spiderwebs covered the paddy fields, a farmer who was cultivating string-beans on the bunds of his rice field, kept spraying both his rice crop and his string-beans once every 3 days, particularly when there was some infestation by rice stemborers. As he neared the time to harvest his string-beans, he sprayed his bean crop once every two days by mixing a pesticide with Beta-silfutrin (25g/l) with a mosquito-repellant to avoid any damage to his beans. Pesticide spraying video available on YouTube. Ecological engineering practices to restore ecosystem services in Indonesia continues to face strong completion from pesticide marketing and ingrained attitudes among farmers researchers, extension and policy makers that pesticides are always needed.