Thousands of people migrate to Jakarta from small towns and villages each year, dreaming of a better life. Lured by the luxury portrayed on television soap operas, they hope to one day enjoy the city’s glamorous lifestyle.
Ironically, city folk in the Big Durian are increasingly wishing for a quieter life. Bored with endless weekends at the mall, they are now seeking a taste of the rural experience.
Already popular in many cities around the world, the urban farming movement has begun to take root in Jakarta.
Jakarta Berkebun, or Jakarta Gardening, a community that encourages people to grow fruits and vegetables in the capital, had its official launch two weeks ago.
It was Ridwan Kamil, a prominent architect, who started the initiative in October last year with the Twitter hashtag #jakartaberkebun. Dozens of people who shared Ridwan’s concern about the lack of green space in the capital took up the cause.
Milly Ratudian Purbasari, the movement’s leader, said around 20 people showed up at the group’s first meeting in October last year. They all agreed that something should be done with the unused blocks of land in Jakarta. “We know that there are so many neglected areas in the city, most of which have been turned into dump grounds,” she said.
Milly said the group got lucky when the Springhill housing complex in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, granted them a three-year lease on 10,800 square meters of idle land for free.
Jakarta Berkebun managed to attract about 150 people to its first event in Kemayoran. Under the watchful eyes of several experts, each participant was given a small piece of land to plant kangkung (water spinach).
“We found that water spinach is a fairly easy plant to grow,” Milly said, adding that it only takes about three weeks before the water spinach is ready to be picked.
Each week, members are encouraged to drop by and tend to their water spinach. Milly said the participants were also encouraged to bring along their families and friends.
“Most children who live in big cities are not familiar with gardening, since they spend most of their time inside air-conditioned buildings,” she said.
Noting the enthusiasm that Jakarta Berkebun has generated, Milly said she was optimistic about the future of the urban farming movement in the city. She said Jakarta was the testing ground for the development of a wider Indonesia Berkebun movement, with the organization already planning to expand into cities such as Bandung, Yogyakarta and Surabaya.
But Jakarta Berkebun is not the first group to try and introduce urban farming to the capital. Since 1996, Nawi, the chairwoman of the Dasa Family Welfare Movement (PKK), has been encouraging people living in the Dasa alleyways of Kebayoran Lama, South Jakarta, to turn the area green.
Nawi said it all started when she asked residents to put potted plants in front of their homes to celebrate a holiday.
Through lots of hard work, Nawi’s simple green project was soon adopted by around 900 families in the area. Nawi and her team later expanded the project to include facilities for recycling, composting organic material and growing medicinal plants.
Rubiyem, who is in charge of the medicinal plants program, said the green project had helped her family and the community. “Medical costs can be so high for low-income families like those in this neighborhood, so growing our own medicinal plants helps cut costs,” she said.
Residents of Pegangsaan subdistrict in Central Jakarta have also been working to make their neighborhood green. Previously known as an area of drug dealers, addicts and youth gangs, the changes that have taken place in Pegangsaan could provide a model for other residential areas.
Supported by several institutions and nonprofit organizations, Andri Budiman, a senior member of the community, said he has had a long-term dream to turn the 5,000-thousand-strong neighborhood into “a completely green area.”
However, Andri acknowledged that it was not always easy to get the residents involved, so in developing the program, the leaders employ what they refer to as the 3-M strategy: Mudah dilakukan (easy to do), menyenangkan dilaksanakan (fun to do) and melibatkan siapapun yang menginginkan (include everyone who is interested).
But more than just providing a new recreational activity, the urban farming movement can be seen as a way to encourage the city administration to create more green spaces for Jakarta’s residents.
The 2007 Spatial Planning Law requires every province to dedicate at least 30 percent of its total land to green space.
The Jakarta administration, however, has only been able to allocate 9.6 percent of the city’s 660 square kilometers for green space. Governor Fauzi Bowo has said there is no way his administration can comply with the law. He says setting aside 13 percent of the city’s total area for green space is a more appropriate, and realistic, goal. But either way, he says, the target will not be achieved until at least 2015.
Nana Firman, a member of the People’s Coalition for Jakarta 2030 (Koalisi Warga Untuk Jakarta 2030), is not buying it. She says the 30 percent green space mandated in the law is attainable.
Nana is an urban planner who is frequently involved in projects for nonprofit organizations. She was part of the Green Reconstruction project for post-tsunami recovery in Aceh.
“It is possible so long as the Jakarta administration has a strong commitment [to reach the target],” she said.
Increasing the capital’s green space, she explained, could be managed by increasing planting in strategic locations around the city, such as “alongside the city’s rivers or beaches, around office buildings, in industrial buildings or in residential areas.”
Nana said the rise of urban farming in Jakarta was a very positive sign.
“Most people in big cities don’t pay attention to where their food comes from and how much money is spent on transporting the food,” she said.
Nana said the government should develop the trend by creating urban farming zones and by providing seeds for residents to plant. “This could become an alternative source of income, especially for middle-income and lower-income families,” she said.