By: Marina Tan
10 July 2009
On 10th July 2009, a group of 18 Monash University Sunway Campus students gathered at the Yogyakarta INSIST Centre, as part of a study trip to explore Yogyakarta’s cultural and political climate. The group was received by Mr Roem Topatimasang, a senior committee member of INSIST. Moderator of the session, Australian exchange student Joanna Molloy got the ball rolling by introducing the Monash group to the INSIST staff and inviting Mr Topatimasang to introduce INSIST, giving a brief idea of its history, vision and the challenges faced when implementing its aim of achieving a self sufficient Indonesia.
Founded in 1997 by a group of like-minded activist, INSIST initially stood for Institute for Social Transformation. On 20th May 2004, the INSIST committee members unanimously signed the Declaration of the New Insist, effectively changing INSIST to be an abbreviation for the Indonesian Society for Social Transformation. This change of name was in line with the organisation’s aim to be more inclusive to the whole Indonesian nation and to avoid the flaw of centralisation according to a senior INSIST committee member Mr Roem Topatimasang.
In line with INSIST’s vision of transforming Indonesia’s agriculture sector from a very commercial-orientated venture into a venture which focuses more on agricultural and energy self- sufficiency, the 10 acres of land where the INSIST Centre in Yogyakarta is built upon is a showroom of self-sufficient organic farming, being surrounded by model organic paddy fields and rows of chilli plants. A wooden building behind the office is made out of sustainable local wood beams and banisters made out of coconut trunks. Below the building is a container with the capacity to collect cattle manure and legumes-material for biofuel, one of the forms of sustainable energy being promoted by INSIST. According to Mr Topatimasang, biofuel was more suitable for the Indonesian villagers as it did not require the installation of the expensive solar panels required to convert solar power into energy.
Because INSIST is merely a supporting organisation and not an implementing organisation, INSIST is not involved directly with the scientific aspect of research on agriculture. Instead,its member organisations will conduct the necessary research and send its findings to INSIST who will then implement the findings such as the more effective methods of planting rice on the model paddy fields in the INSIST Centre compound. As mentioned by Mr Topatimasang INSIST focuses on exposing the system of self sufficient agriculture to the rural farmers.
When asked about the main obstacles in achieving their vision, Mr Topatimasang shrugged and said that “The biggest challenge would be changing the mindset of the rural farmers”. Having been used to farming being strictly regulated under the Suharto regime and following government recommendations for the growing of crops, most farmers have been ingrained with the mindset that farming is for the commercial market and not for the purpose of achieving self-sufficiency. Nonetheless, Mr Topatimasang says that the people are now open to the idea of farming for self- sufficiency, but the problem remains that many farmers lack the knowledge and accessible information on self-sufficient organic farming. This is where INSIST plays an important role in making the information on self-sufficient farming available to the rural farmers. This is either done through formal methods such as workshops and seminars or informal methods like participating in the villagers everyday activities of fishing or simply by having a drink while informing them about self- sufficient organic farming.
Asked by a Monash student on whether the organic products produced by the farmers were sold commercially, Mr Topatimasang adamantly shook his head and said commercialising the produce would just defeat the purpose of the whole self-sufficient organic farming which focuses on the grassroot level of agriculture, in this case, the rural farmers. Instead, Mr Topatimasang said INSIST’s main revenue were from research published by its publishing house, and the fees imposed on its member organisations.
“It is all about autonomy, a person could be politically autonomous, but if he depended on others to supply food, he would not really be autonomous”,claimed Mr Topatimasang. He explained that if one had enough food for himself, he maintains his own autonomy and depends on no one. A staunch supporter of human rights, Mr Topatimasang believes that the fundamental human right is self-dependence, not just at the national level but done via the achieving of collaboration with several players in the field.
*View more pictures of the day from our photo album
WRITER'S PROFILE: Marina is a final year student at Monash University Malaysia, doing a double in the Bachelor of Arts in Writing and International Studies. Marina is from Malacca and was particularly impressed by INSIST which opened her eyes to the alternatives to capitalist free market. She finds INSIST fascinating as it is a real-life example of the theories she has learnt in her International Studies unit.