While the government has been suggesting the nation find alternatives to a dwindling supply of locally grown rice, one teacher in Jakarta is promoting a program to grow the staple food in the middle of the city.
Suhri, an Indonesian language teacher at State Junior High School (SMPN) 209 in Kramat Jati, East Jakarta, has introduced a “Rice in a Bucket” cultivation program at his school as a way of teaching students about agriculture and self-sufficiency.
Despite not having a formal background in farming, he said a chance encounter at the rice-cultivating village he grew up in planted a seed that would grow into his innovative program.
“In 2007, my cousin in Ciamis district, in West Java, told me that anybody could plant rice nowadays without having to go out into the fields and get their suits and ties dirty,” he said.
“So I tried to get all the information I could and implemented the methods myself.”
Suhri said he tested the idea of planting rice in buckets at his house before eventually bringing the program to his school in 2007, starting with 50 buckets shared among the students.
“I didn’t want to propose the idea to the principal before I tried it myself. After I successfully harvested the organic rice from my own tiny rice field, then I took the idea to school,” he said.
“Fortunately, I got a positive response from the principal and we started the planting program in 2007.”
Suhri, who is also the coordinator of the school’s forestry program, said his students were excited to learn about growing rice in the city.
Yoga Setiawan, a ninth-grade student who has been taking part in the program, said growing rice in buckets was an innovative idea that he wanted to develop further once he finished school.
“Planting rice is actually not that difficult once you know how to do it,” he said.
Yoga said students bought their seeds at the local bird market and created the correct soil composition themselves.
“The first thing that we do is mix 60 percent soil and 40 percent compost. Then we let it sit for two to four weeks,” he said.
During those weeks waiting for the soil to set, the students prepare their rice plants by growing the sprouts that will be planted in the buckets.
Yoga said that although they never ate the rice they grew in the buckets, he and the other students were always excited when it came time to harvest.
“It takes us three and a half months to go from the preparation stage to harvest,” he said.
Suhri said that since 2007, students at the school had experimented with planting different types of rice to determine which variety was the best for the “Rice in a Bucket” project.
“We tried to plant Japanese rice in 2008, Situ Bagendit rice in 2009 and Ciherang rice in 2010,” he said. “Although Japanese rice tested better, the Japanese rice plant is the hardest to take care of because it is very tall.”
Suhri said the key to growing healthy rice plants with lots of stalks was to use organic liquid fertilizer — the best being your own urine.
“Before we began using urine as the extra organic fertilizer, each bucket only had 50 stalks of rice that produced one or two ounces of grain,” he said. “But since we’ve been using urine, each bucket produces 80 stalks of rice that can produce two to three ounces of grain.”
In order to reduce the smell from the urine, the students add grated ginger, galangal and turmeric mixed with water.
Ambar Susilowati, another ninth-grader involved in the program, said that aside from the fun of growing your own rice, the students also learned a lot about farming and rice cultivation.
“We’ve learned to appreciate farmers because they do so much hard work to grow the rice that ends up on the tables of so many Indonesians,” she said.
“That is why I always finish my food when I have breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
Ambar, who will graduate in the middle of this year, added that she wanted to introduce the method to as many people as possible so they could grow their own rice at home.
“I hope this knowledge will not be left at this school once we graduate, but will be spread around the city and help make Jakarta a little greener with small rice buckets in every home,” she said.