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What are the biggest challenges for Indonesian smallholders? How can insurance help, and how open are farmers to such ideas? What might be good news about the pandemic? We put these and other questions to Syamsu Dhuha, who joined our Foundation in 2017. He’s a Field Officer in East Java.

Syngenta Foundation: What brought you to the world of agriculture?
Syamsu Dhuha: My interest in farming started when I was little. I enjoyed helping my parents grow rice and corn. At university, I majored in Agriculture, and still do some farming in my spare time. In my job, I’m happy that I can help small-scale farmers. It’s a real pleasure to watch their crops grow to harvest. 

What are the main crops in East Java?
As well as rice and corn, farmers here grow a lot of vegetables - notably shallots and chilies.

What are the main challenges for smallholder farming there?  
In my eyes, the two biggest ones are the weather and young people’s view of agriculture. Smallholders here are very vulnerable to the weather; adverse events can quickly cause crop failure. Rural areas need more technology and infrastructure to deal with weather problems. At the same time, the teenage children of today’s farmers are very reluctant to follow them. I would even say they don’t «dare» to enter the world of agriculture. The young generation wants office jobs with less physical work and more money. 

How do the Syngenta Foundation and YASI* help here?
We tackle both the challenges I’ve just mentioned. To take my own job, for example, I help YASI partners to expand the weather insurance program Dana Pandan, our "Safe and Sustainable Farming Fund". I also provide technical assistance and training on weather index insurance, standard operating procedures, marketing, and sales strategy. My colleagues and I assist farmers in establishing solutions for future success in agriculture. 

Helping farmers in the field is one thing, but a topic like insurance can easily take them out of their comfort zone...
That’s true. In East Java, a lot of smallholders only have limited formal education. Furthermore, insurance – of any type – is not usually part of their daily lives. So it’s really important that we help them understand what this protection can do for them, and what it can’t. That takes time because insurance is complicated. But the effort is well worthwhile – and with climate change, weather insurance is more important than ever.

How did you come to join our team?
It’s a short story. When I finished my degree, I initially did part-time research for a university lecturer. After about a year, I looked for a full-time job and applied to the Syngenta Foundation. 

Indonesia has been badly affected by Covid. How has the pandemic affected your work?   
For me, there are two main aspects. One is the professional challenge. My colleagues and I have tried hard to adapt and carry out our duties as well as possible. We all have responsibilities, for example towards the farmers and program partners. We try to meet these by staying calm and looking for the best solution in the circumstances. The other is more the personal side. The pandemic has helped me become more concerned about health, care for others, and family closeness. Both aspects are positive, despite all the negative effects of Covid itself. 

Talking of family closeness and health: What does your life look like outside work?
My wife and I married at the end of 2019. Our son Asa is eight months old, and keeps us very entertained! The three of us live in the same house as my mother. I like spending time with the family and also enjoy football. And as I said, I’m also often in the fields looking after our farm.

You’re based in Tulungagung, which has lots of beaches nearby. What would you recommend visitors to do in your city?
Try the typical local dish, Lodho! That’s native chicken cooked in gravy with chilies that are still intact. It's really good, especially if you like your food spicy...

*YASI (Yayasan Agri Sustineri Indonesia) was established in 2020. It focuses on promoting sustainable agriculture and improving farming systems and livelihoods in rural communities. The Syngenta Foundation supports YASI’s activities with funding, operational and technical assistance. Here’s more about its creation.