In Jakarta, Indonesia, urban farming and hydroponics are initiatives that are increasingly being utilised to feed the city’s expanding population and ensure food security. PH&G looks at hydroponic strawberry production in Bandung, and also talks to one of the country’s largest hydroponic growers, which not only supplies supermarkets across Jakarta, but also runs an educational facility to train hydroponic professionals of the future. Report by Christine Brown-Paul. Photography by Sam Ross
In cities around the world, the crush of rising populations brings its own unique set of problems, chief amongst them finding a solution to cope with an increasingly growing demand for food. In this sense, the challenges facing Jakarta—capital of Indonesia and one of South East Asia’s largest cities—are no different to anywhere else in the world.
Covering a land area of 662.33 (255.73 sq. miles), Jakarta has a population close to 10 million, making it one of the most densely populated cities in the world. With diminishing agricultural land where local farmers actually grow produce, Jakarta looks to external sources, bringing in close to 300 tonnes of vegetables daily to feed its expanding population.
Most of the agricultural products consumed in Jakarta are imported from Bogor, Puncak and Bandung/Lembang areas and other parts of the highlands of West Java Province. However, what is produced in Jakarta itself is difficult to bring into the city on account of congestion and time constraints. Predictions are that, because of the economic crisis, urban dwellers will eat more vegetables since they will no longer afford to buy meat, fish or eggs.
Climate for change
As reported recently in the Jakarta Post, a new study has revealed that of all cities in South East Asia, Jakarta is the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
The Singapore-based Economy and Environment Program for South East Asia (EEPSEA) ranked Central, North and West Jakarta at the top of a list of administrative regions susceptible to climate change, followed by Mondol Kiri province in Cambodia and East Jakarta.
According to the report, apart from tropical storms, Jakarta is prone to all types of climate-change related disasters.
“It is frequently exposed to regular flooding but most importantly, it is highly sensitive because it is among the most densely-populated regions in South East Asia,” says the report.
Unfortunately, the country’s current climate prediction technology is inadequate to deal with accurate weather forecasting, which is vital for farmers.
In Bogor, West Java, climatology experts at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture (IPB) point out that national climatology centres do not have adequate equipment to facilitate more accurate seasonal weather forecasting—something, which they believe is to the detriment of Indonesia’s moves towards food self-sufficiency.
“This has been going on over many years and is affecting farmers’ decisions on planting and harvesting seasons,” says IPB agriculture expert Yonny Koesmaryono.
“Planting patterns should be arranged in line with climate data. Agriculture intensification plans should not defy known environmental limitations,” says Mr Koesmaryono.
“The El Nino phenomena [a cyclical change in the atmosphere and ocean of the tropical Pacific region that contributes to long-term droughts recurring every three to eight years] has caused massive damage to agriculture.”
Mr Koesmaryono’s colleague and fellow IPB agriculture expert, Herry Suhardiyanto, agrees with his recommendations, saying that, in the face of unstable weather patterns, farmers should turn to the use of glasshouses and hydroponic methods to help prevent crop failure.
“The glasshouse method has been used to protect crops from low temperatures during the rainy season and high temperatures during the dry season by using transparent glass sheets, which light can pass through,” Mr Suhardiyanto says.
“The hydroponic system provides sufficient water and nutrition for plants suitable for plant needs.”
Urban farming in Jakarta
Already, in Indonesia, many types of vegetables are grown in well controlled environments such as greenhouses and screenhouses. Generally, vegetables are grown on a regular sterilised medium like paddy husks, charcoal, sand, small rock, carbon, or zeolite.
In his paper, Creating Urban and Building Space for Agricultural Space towards Sustainable Jakarta, Albertus Prawata, from Bina Nusantara University in Jakarta, suggests that one solution to the problems of food security currently facing Jakarta is urban farming.
According to Mr Prawata, by allowing for the conversion of building space into agricultural space, urban farming would support food production for the people of Jakarta.
“As urban farming has received a lot of support from the Government as well as the private sectors, it may develop sufficiently to offer viable alternative livelihood options for a lot of impoverished and disadvantaged communities in the coming years,” Mr Prawata says.
“With the increase of urbanisation and rural-to-urban migration, urban farming may provide an opportunity for rural farmers who migrate to cities to continue using their skills to generate income.”
The uptake of urban farming in Jakarta has risen sharply in the past few years. One example is the Indonesia Gardening Community (Komunitas Indonesia Berkebun), which began by making use of a vacant land in the city by planting food crops that could be harvested later for personal purposes.
Another residential area to realise the importance of urban farming in Jakarta is Kampung Rawajati, located in the area of Pancoran, South Jakarta.
“The local Government now refers this place as an Agro tourism village. There you can see hundreds of plants, ranging from medicinal plants, productive plants to ornamental plants grown independently by people who are committed to create a green environment,” Mr Prawata says.
“Furthermore, Kampung Rawajati residents have also implemented a waste recycling system to its marketing waste, which makes this region as a pilot area for other regions in Jakarta.
“Controlled indoor environment agriculture is one of the strategies that can be applied to ensure the food production and supply for the city. High technology greenhouse farming is already being deployed around the world, such as New Zealand, The Netherlands, Germany, England, Australia and the United States. To address the problem of limited spaces in urban areas, the horizontal footprint of greenhouses can be replaced by stacking the spaces on top of each other, creating vertical farms that will be suitable for urban spaces,” he advocates.
“Vertical farms of varying heights can be constructed to meet the needs of restaurants, school cafeterias, offices, hospitals and apartment complexes.
“The safety of food production is one of the main advantages of vertical farms,” Mr Prawata says.
“Hydroponic, aeroponic and aquaponic technologies will eliminate the use of harmful chemicals, which are used during farming.”
Hydroponic strawberry production in Indonesia
Bandung is the capital of West Java province, the country’s third largest city by population, and second largest metropolitan area in Indonesia.
In Bandung, strawberry production mostly involves soil agriculture. One limitation with this production scheme is the long gestation period (around eight months) from planting of runners until harvesting of the initial fruits. With hydroponics, however, harvesting is possible four months after transferring the tissue-cultured plantlets into the hydropots and growing them in nutrient-rich water.
In 2012, in an initiative to teach disadvantaged Indonesian communities to grow strawberries hydroponically, Goducate—a non-profit, non-religious organisation whose mission is to help needy Asians help themselves—held lectures, seminars/workshops for over 2600 farmers in Sumatra, Java, and the poorer provinces of East Indonesia.
Goducate’s agricultural consultants have given lectures on topics covering vermicomposting, container gardening, hydroponics, aquaponics, moringa cultivation, coffee growing, rice growing, and swine raising.
To highlight the advantages of hydroponics in producing strawberries, Goducate initiated a static prototype in Bandung in September 2012.
Ten pieces of 100-mm diameter PVC pipes about 3.25 metres long were each perforated with 20 holes to accommodate 20 hydropots. Three A-frames made of bamboo were used to support the three vertical layers of PVC pipes. Each pipe was then filled with about 28 litres of water containing 14 of the 17 macro- and micro-nutrients for optimum plant growth (the three other elements—carbon, hydrogen and oxygen—are generally sourced by the plants from water and air). To eliminate the possibility of excessive dilution of nutrients from rain water, improvised roofing using plastic sheets was constructed.
By the end of November 2012, the hydroponically grown strawberries were flowering profusely. Harvesting took place a month later.
Goducate has been teaching emerging technologies in agriculture like hydroponics to farmers in Indonesia during the past few months. Instead of dealing with popular and very expensive systems such as automated drip irrigation and nutrient-film technique, Goducate focuses on affordable static hydroponics, which involves passive aeration, does not use electricity, and eliminates protective structures such as greenhouses and screenhouses.
In Bandung, where the elevation varies from 700 to 1800 m above sea level, high-value vegetables such as lettuce, cauliflowers, cabbage and broccoli are ideal for backyard production through hydroponics. Under an urban setting where much of the backyard spaces are concreted, household members will benefit greatly from this technology.
Recyclable materials abound in various Indonesian towns and cities, and for an initial investment of only Singapore dollars (SGD) 0.80, vegetables worth SGD4.85 (AU$4.31) can be produced.
Goducate hopes that eventually, its trainings on emerging agricultural technologies will help ensure food security among Indonesian households.
At Parung, in the southwestern suburb of Jakarta and within the Regency of Bogor, Indonesia’s largest hydroponic garden—Parung Farm—supplies pesticide-free, hydroponically grown fruit and vegetables to the local community as well as to supermarkets across Jakarta and surrounding areas.
Parung has a traditional market called Pasar Parung as its commercial centre.
The company also has another, larger farm in Puncak, situated in the highlands, about two hours’ drive from Jakarta. Because of the high temperature at the Parung facility, hydroponic lettuce and organic vegetables are grown at Puncak, which enjoys a cooler climate.
“We have two locations for growing leafy vegetables hydroponically. In Parung, Bogor (about 50 m above sea level), and in the hinterland, about 1200 m above sea level,” says Yudi Supriyono, Senior Officer/Director in charge of production at Parung Farm.
“At Parung Farm, we grow leafy vegetables, mostly red and green spinach and kangkoong [water spinach] in the lowland Parung; and we grow mostly many kinds of lettuce such as Batavia lettuce, curly lettuce, green oakleaf, red oakleaf, butterhead, endive and romaine in the highland.”
Leafy vegetables are mostly grown at Parung Farm using a simple modified NFT system, and the rest is grown with a simple, modified aeroponics system and on a substrate system (for kankoong).
“We use hydroponics nutrients, consisting of all elements found commonly in hydroponic nutrients where the EC is about 1.75 – 2.0 and pH of 5.0 to 6.0,” Mr Supriyono says.
In Parung lowland, there are five greenhouses covering a total area 1000m2. Built with bamboo, greenhouses are simply constructed and feature gullies. The size of each greenhouse ranging from 136m2 to 240m2.
“In the highland farms we have 60 small greenhouses ranging in sizes from 70m2 to 100m2. Total size of the greenhouses is almost 4900m2, “ Mr Supriyono says.
“In addition, close to our farm, we rent land, and have built two greenhouses measuring 370m2 each, with a total area of 740m2.
“We sell 90% of our vegetables to big, modern supermarkets in Jakarta and its surroundings, and the rest to a few restaurants,” he says.
“Our products, both hydroponic and organic vegetables, can be found in all supermarkets and hypermarkets in Jakarta and its surrounding areas. Our products are labelled ParungFarm; but at Sogo, Carrefour, Hero, Giant and Lotte [Mart], most of our products are sold using their own private label brand, because they trust the high quality of our products.”
Parung Farms had its beginnings in 1988 when its founders were introduced to some agricultural scientists from the Badan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi [BPPT], subsequently becoming familiarised with the processes involved in the agricultural technology of hydroponics.
A non-departmental government agency under the coordination of the Indonesian Ministry of Research and Technology, BPPT is charged with the task of carrying out government initiatives in the field of assessment and application of technology.
In 2004, Parung Farm began operating commercially under the name of PT. Kebun Sayur Segar, with its Parung Farm brand offering the only specialised leafy vegetables hydroponically and aeroponically grown in Indonesia.
“We are very interested in this technology because, according to our experiments, relative growth of the plants is much better than the traditionally cultivated plants, since in this system, technology plays an important role,” Mr Supriyono says.
“We began to learn more about hydroponic technology from online books and magazines, including Practical Hydroponics & Greenhouses. We searched for the latest information from the Internet, and corresponded with experts from abroad, as well as held discussions with experts from some of the Faculty of Agriculture, particularly the IPB, and also with practitioners.”
Aside from growing hydroponic produce, Parung Farm also grows organic vegetables in the belief that consumer demand is undergoing a shift towards more natural and healthier and pesticide-free vegetables.
“In 2006/2007, we started to cultivate vegetables organically in the area Cugenang, Cipanas, West Java,” Mr Supriyono says.
“We do not use chemical pesticides in our farms, so we must take care of each plant almost manually. We do rotations between plants, where we consider it is necessary.
In 2010, Parung Farm was the first vegetable producer in Indonesia to achieve organic certification, receiving its Organic Certificate from PT. Mutu Agung Lestari, an accreditation agency recognised and endorsed by the National Accreditation Committee (KAN).
Training for the future
Aside from its hydroponic and organic vegetable growing facilities, Parung Farm is also a seat of learning, with its school of hydroponics offering low cost training in urban and hydroponic gardening.
Once students graduate from their course, they are also free to return to seek further agricultural information, tips and assistance from the agricultural experts at Parung Farm.
“Our coaches are seasoned scholars who teach hobbyists and professionals the technology behind hydroponics and also teach how to use hydroponic kits and equipment,” Mr Supriyono says.
Since its establishment, Parung Farm has been a magnet for countless visitors to its gardens in search of more education about hydroponics and organic growing techniques. These have ranged from kindergarten children through to elementary, junior high, high school and undergraduates, as well as post-graduate students, lecturers, agricultural extension workers and retirees.
So what are the challenges facing Parung Farm?
“The challenge ahead is to try to match today’s demand with supply,” Mr Supriyono says.
“Demand is made one day before the shops sell the vegetables, and the products harvested today have been grown two months before—based on the demand of two months prior. However, this is always different from the current demand.”
“In coming years, we will try to sell vegetables directly to restaurants and hotels since their orders are usually already fixed some months ahead, which helps to make our plan to grow them easier,” he says.
“We are also constantly searching for techniques to increase our productivity without increasing cost.”
About the author
Christine Brown-Paul is a Sydney-based journalist and a regular contributor to PH&G, with a special interest in the environment and sustainable technology. Email: email@example.com Ω