Riani Sanusi Putri, Jakarta – Out of the 215 hectares of agricultural land plots opened for the government's food estate program in North Sumatra's Humbang Hasundutan Regency, the Agriculture Ministry (Kementan) claims 146 hectares have successfully been planted with crops by local farmers.
However, Tempo's observation at the Siria-ria village located in the regency found there were still hundreds of hectares that were seemingly abandoned and left to be bushlands.
Irma Suryani Lumban Gaol, a food estate farmer since the initial planting stage in 2020, said most of the land was abandoned by farmers because they could no longer plant the land following crop failures.
She said that initially, the farmers received assistance from the government through the Ministry of Agriculture in the form of land clearing, fertilizers, medicines, and seeds. However, Irma regretted that the commodity that the government requested to be planted was garlic, which she believes was not suitable for the local soil. The garlic harvest eventually failed.
"There were no results from this assistance program as the problem is the garlic. We can sell none at all. The land is not suitable for garlic seeds that were given to us," said Irma to Tempo in the Humbang Hasundutan food estate area, Thursday, January 26.
Irma recalled that the failure of the garlic harvest prevented farmers from planting seeds for the second stage of production because they no longer received any government assistance. She also claims the Ministry of Agriculture argued that farmers must be independent after being given assistance for the first stage of harvest.
Limited funds resulted in a large amount of land being neglected in the food estate, making Irma unable to cultivate half of her land. Of the 2 hectares of land given to her by the government, Irma admitted that she was only able to plant 1 hectare of land with commodities she purchases independently such as chili, coffee, and corn.
The commodities that Irma is currently planting are not included in the official recommendation by the Ministry of Agriculture, namely garlic, shallots, and potatoes. She said the commodities the government suggested do not fit well with the local soil. However, she did admit that some farmers have succeeded in harvesting these commodities, but the capital required is unreachable for a small farmer like her.
"If we planted potatoes as the government recommended, it would cost Rp140 million. We cannot afford that. Where can farmers like us get that sort of money?" said Irma.
As for each harvest, Irma sells her own produce through the services of middlemen as she claims no cooperation has been established with any company to absorb the harvest. The farmer even said that she would let any company manage the harvest even though the consequences are getting small profits.
Tempo confirmed the finding of much unattended 'food estate' lands to the Agriculture Ministry's Directorate General of Horticulture, Prihasto Setyanto. He defended that the current problem facing a number of land plots is the responsibility of the farmers and the Humbang Hasundutan Agriculture Agency.
"Go ask the farmer. Why would we be asked this? This is what I do not like. Don't constantly ask us. Go ask the farmers," said Prihasto at the Coffee Hotel Ayola Dolok Sanggul on January 26.
According to him, the Ministry of Agriculture has provided intensive assistance. As for the failure of the garlic harvest at the first stage, he said the Ministry had indeed provided recommendations for planting this commodity. However, there need to be long processes to gain optimum results.