Apple farmers go organic
to restore soil fertility

Apple farmer Jamari stands in his apple orchard in Kota Batu, East Java. (JP/Sri Wahyuni)

Apple farmer Jamari thought he would never be able to enjoy a good harvest from his farm ever again.

Until several years back, most of his 250 apple trees in Bumiaji village, Kota Batu, East Java, were fruitless. If any fruit did grow, it was usually smaller and bad for the market.

"I didn't know what to do to mend the situation. Using more chemical fertilizers did not work either," said the 50-year-old farmer.

Just when he was about to give up, a team from Muslim organization Muhammadiyah's community empowerment body (MPM) and Malang-based Muhammadiyah University's community service unit (LPM-UMM) came to the village with a solution.

The solution, he said, made sense and the farmers did not have to spend a large amount of money, nor were they required to replace their trees.

The farmers were advised to restore soil fertility by using home-made organic fertilizers to stimulate plant growth using a MPM-made liquid organic fertilizer.

At first, Jamari and the other farmers thought the solution made no sense, especially since they had been using chemical fertilizers for so long.

But Jamari's curiosity got the better of him. He finally decided to join some of the other farmers who were willing to apply the newly introduced way of cultivating apples.

The farmers were asked to prepare organic fertilizer, locally called pupuk kocor; referring to the way the fertilizer is applied -- by pouring it on the field. Kocor is a Javanese word that literally means "to pour".

The fertilizer is a blend of MPM-made liquid organic fertilizer, which is similar to that sprayed on plants to stimulate fruit growth, as well as a self-grown microorganism and manure.

"For this fertilizer, I don't even need to buy the manure as I have 11 goats and about 100 rabbits at home," Jamari said.

After five months of applying both the sprayed fertilizers and pupuk kocor, Jamari could see for himself that his previously fruitless plants were starting to bear fruit.

Proudly, he pointed to another apple farm right next to his where most of the trees were leafless and dying.

"The trees on my farm used to look like the ones over there," he said.

"Alhamdulillah (Praise be to God), I finally decided to join the program and I can now enjoy a good harvest again. A much better harvest, in fact."

He said by going organic, he now spends less money on fertilizers. Previously, he needed to buy at least 100 kilograms of chemical fertilizers every six months, at a cost of Rp 3,000 per kg.

He also had to buy pesticides, which cost another Rp 20,000 every six months.

These days, Jamari does not need chemical pesticides, as he uses an organic pesticide made from ingredients available in his neighborhood.

In terms of the harvest, Jamari said he couldn't be happier, with the yield more than doubling previous harvests.

Prior to using organic fertilizers and pesticides, Jamari was able to yield around 300 kg of apples per harvest. Currently, he can collect up to 700 kg.

"The apples are bigger than before. More importantly, as I have been told, the apples we produce now are also healthier as they are free from chemical fertilizers and pesticides."

MPM's agricultural consultant, Syafii Latuconsina, said aside from boosting output and producing healthier apples, the organic farming program was also aimed at restoring soil fertility.

However, as chemical fertilizers have been used in the area for so long, five years or so may be required before the region is completely free from chemical fertilizer and pesticide residue.

"The long-term use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides has resulted in high-cost agricultural activities as well as damage to soil fertility," said Sujono, head of LPM-UMM.

Coordinator of the agricultural supervisors of Kota Batu's Agriculture Office, Nur Kamarullah, said a breakthrough was needed to remedy the decrease in the production of apples in the region.

Dubbed the City of Apples, he said, Kota Batu's apple production rate is now at the alarming level of only 10 to 20 tons per hectare annually.

This figure is far below the production rate reached during the 1980s, which was between 40 to 60 tons of apples per hectare annually.

"This is concerning because of some 6,000 hectares of Kota Batu's total agricultural fields, 2,000 hectares are apple farms," Nur said.

He warmly welcomed MPM and LPM-UMM's efforts and expressed readiness to introduce the program to more apple farmers in the region in a hope to prevent the city from losing its famous nickname.

MPM's head, Said Tuhulely, said his organization wanted to offer the farmers assistance to help change their mind-set.

The programs main aims include; reducing production costs, improving the quality and quantity of the products and restoring soil fertility.

Said added the farmers had been too dependent on chemical fertilizers and used uncontrolled amounts, causing an unnecessary increase in production costs and significant damage to the soil.

"We realized this would not be an easy task. Yet, we believed that once the farmers saw for themselves they could be more successful once they implemented a healthier way of farming, they would surely join in," he said.

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