Attitudes and Farmer Behaviors: The Change of Subsistence

Perilaku Petani

Food availability that meets the needs of the population is an expected condition. As the population increases, food availability is expected to increase. What is expected, of course, is not just availability, but quality of food that meets nutritional and health standards to improve the quality of people’s lives. In addition, what is expected is the availability of food that is affordable to the community, so that people can enjoy healthy food at affordable prices. Food security, according to The Economist in its annual publication series, has three main indicators, namely: (1) food availability, (2) food affordability, and health & quality or food safety & quality.

Food availability – according to the mandate of the Food Law/Law no. 18/2012 – requires adequate land support; there is an area of ​​agricultural land per capita that is proportional to the population; the existence of perfect irrigation infrastructure; there are farmers who diligently and painstakingly work in the fields with all their heart; as well as the existence of support from Government policies that are truly felt by farmers. There is a sense of satisfaction among farmers for their work in working on agricultural land is an expected condition. Perhaps this is a prerequisite for the sustainability of agricultural activities. Farmers are expected not to think about working in various non-agricultural sectors. On the contrary, they are expected to carry out various innovations to make their farming more profitable. They are also expected to maintain the sustainability of this agricultural sector. If they are landowners, it is hoped that their agricultural land will be sustainable in the next generation.

However, we need to know together, agriculture in Indonesia is different from agriculture in other countries. Food supply (especially rice or paddy rice) in Indonesia is used to be done by farming families; not used to being provided by the state; entrepreneurs engaged in the food supply sector are also not used to it. Indonesia recognizes the family farming system in the sense that farmer families are in charge of providing food (rice/paddy). Indonesia is familiar with the people’s agricultural system, in the sense that the people are used to farming to produce food. Indonesia does not recognize the state agricultural system/ socialistic agricultural system. This indicates that in Indonesia’s socio-economic history there were no state-owned gardens or rice fields that were specifically designated for food production (rice/paddy). It is as if the farm family is destined to provide food for other groups of society, including for entrepreneurs, for bureaucrats and intellectuals. This has been going on from the pre-independence era to the post-independence decades, and it seems that this is not a problem.

Indeed, in Indonesia there has been a history of economic dualism between small farmers and capital-intensive plantation companies. The term dualism became very popular when Boeke wrote it in his famous classic, Economics and Economic Policy of Dual Societies. The existence of this dualism was none other than due to the policy of the Dutch East Indies Government, in which after the forced cultivation period the Dutch East Indies Government provided opportunities for large capitalistic investors to manage plantation lands. But on the other hand, there are people’s rice fields that are managed simply with traditional technology, simple management without planning. Therefore, Boeke describes the economic situation in a dualistic way; and until now this situation has not completely disappeared.

 

The Changing Subsistence

 

The farm families seem willing to provide food for other parties, because they have been doing subsistence farming for a long time. This is an important point that we need to pay attention to. We define subsistence simply as an activity that is not market-oriented and profit-oriented, although the degree of subsistence will differ from one community to another, which can be measured by the level, commercialization, proximity to the market, or the number of products sold and set aside at each harvest season. The real subsistence is when they farm solely to meet food needs for their families. This subsistence character, referring to Scott (Revised Edition, 2019), is a basic character of agriculture in Southeast Asia, although there are differences here and there, in general they are subsistence farmers. In line with subsistence, the rationality that is held by the peasants is social rationality, not economic rationality. The social rationality emphasizes togetherness, mutual benefit, and solidarity among the peasants. Meanwhile, the economic rationality emphasizes profit, return of capital, and economic efficiency according to business planning.

The agricultural development planning in Indonesia departs from the facts and realities of the subsistence of farmers and their social rationality. The assumptions in the planning are that: (a) rice fields will always be there, it is unlikely that the farmers will use up their fields; and that ownership of rice fields is related to social status. In the countryside, a person would be very honored if he owned a large rice field, and during the season never ran out of food for their family; (b) farmers will always exist, from generation to generation, with the assumption that agriculture is an inseparable part of their daily lives. We are also very proud of our status as an agricultural country. The agriculture will never be separated from the existence of the Indonesian nation. The rural communities will always maintain the existence of farmers from generation to generation; and it is inconceivable that the farmer will become a rare item, and the rice fields will disappear more and more, and will become a rare item, especially for the millennial generation.

But what is happening is that our subsistence farmers are going through very fast changes. Farmers as rural residents are no longer subsistence oriented but their orientation is towards profit and money economy. This is in line with the entry of industrialization into the countryside as a result of the very fast development movement. The economic dynamics of agricultural products in rural areas are not in line with the dynamics of a very fast money economy. It has been stated in the previous section that the desire to become farmers is very weak among the younger generation, and in the next 30 years, we will lose farmers as food (rice/paddy) providers.

This occurs due to several factors: (a) farming activities do not provide comparable benefits to other economic activities; (b) in fact the farmers who dare to take over jobs get a bigger profit; (c) the economic status of farmers in rural areas is synonymous with poverty and low social status; (d) farming activities do not bring rapid profits compared to other jobs, even though in the increasingly developed and capitalistic dynamics of the rural economy, rural life requires the accumulation and speed of funds. The agricultural sector, which they have been struggling with, has not been able to answer this challenge quickly; (e) Apart from farming activities, it has not been fully successful in controlling risks that are often unpredictable, such as crop failure due to pest and disease attacks, flooding or drought.

Therefore, studies on farmer attitudes and behavior and their follow-up are very important in an effort to maintain the sustainability of agricultural land, as well as control the rate of conversion of productive land in an effort to achieve and maintain food self-sufficiency or food independence. It is true that the sustainability of agriculture – particularly food agriculture in Indonesia – is not only determined by the attitudes and behavior of farmers, but is closely related to Government/Regional Government policies as outlined in the form of applicable laws. The dynamics of development and infrastructure development have a very significant effect on the sustainability of agricultural land. The dynamics of entrepreneurs who have a strong interest in land conversion cannot be ignored, in fact this will greatly affect the state of sustainability of agricultural development in the future.

It’s just that in this context, studies and analysis are more focused on the attitudes and behavior of farmers and the follow-up of these attitudes and behaviors. We also know that the attitudes and behavior of these farmers are the result of socio-economic dynamics which are antecedents to these attitudes and behaviors. The dynamics of rural development, industrialization, accessibility, and the entry of the money economy into the countryside are undeniably a factor in changing attitudes and behavior of farmers. However, in this context, we do not discuss these antecedent factors, but rather focus on the attitudes and behavior of farmers and their follow-up. **

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