Turning Farmers’ Social Problems Into Business Solutions

By webadmin on 08:07 pm Sep 21, 2012
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Sylviana Hamdani

A group of socially innovative farmers have not only solved their own problems, but have also created an alternative food solution for the wider Indonesian community.

Himpunan Tani Ngudi Makmur, a farmers association in Karanganyar, Central Java, are a group of farmers who live around Mount Lawu, where cassava is the only plant that thrives on the land.

But with the crop’s low-market prices, farmers would constantly find themselves sinking deeper into poverty.

So when a member of the association suggested converting cassava into modified cassava flour, known as mocaf, the simple thought turned into a great success.

Mocaf has a higher market value, is gluten free — making it suitable for people with an allergy to traditional wheat products — and has the same use as wheat flour.

Today, these farmers produce 1,000 kilograms of mocaf each month and sell it for Rp 1,000 (10 cents) per kilogram, more than double the price for unprocessed cassava crops.

“It’s a simple initiative with large social impacts,” said Mahardhika Sadjad, British Council program officer.

Himpunan Tani Ngudi Makmur was one of the winners of the 2011 Community Entrepreneurs Challenge. The program, which was established in 2010 by British Council Indonesia and the Arthur Guinness Fund, supports local communities who start and manage their own enterprises to solve social problems.

“Anywhere Guinness is sold in the world, we give back to the communities,” said AGF representative Mark Hogan. “This is a particular project that we feel would fit Indonesia and help some of the social problems in the country.”

The CEC Wave III will soon commence in Indonesia. Participants can download an application form at www.britishcouncil.or.id and must submit it online by Monday.

“We hope to receive 500 online applications this year,” said Ari Sutanti, British Council program manager.

Since its first inception, the CEC has attracted more than 700 applications from all over Indonesia. Six community enterprises have received up to Rp 100 million in seed funding to help develop their businesses. The competition promises to be even tougher this year.

“Social entrepreneurship is getting a lot more sophisticated these days,” said British Council program director Mark Crossey. “There are a lot more interests from a lot of players in this field now. That’s why we’re looking increasingly at impact assessment and proper measurement by KPIs [key performance indicators].”

The KPIs for this year are clear business ideas focused on solving social problems, active involvement and the democratic decision-making process of the community members in their business, as well as feasibility based on standard business planning.

The judging panel, which includes representatives from the British Council, AGF and Trisakti University, plus last year’s winners, will screen the applicants.

“It’s a very significant program to develop social entrepreneurship in Indonesia,” said Maria Nindita Radyati, director of Trisakti University’s post-graduate program and a member of the panel. “The program encourages young Indonesians to convert their social problems into business opportunities.”

The top 50 applicants will receive three days of intensive training in Jakarta in November.

“On the third day, they will exhibit their products to Jakarta’s media and consumers,” Ari said. “It’ll be a test case for their products and a chance for them to meet urban customers.”

The jury will assess the participants and their products during the exhibition. The top 20 participants will then take part in a two-day workshop in Jakarta in December. During the workshop, all participants will have to pitch their ideas to the jury, before the jury selects eight finalists.

A test and site visit will then be performed on the community enterprises of the finalists. Six winners will be named at the end of the process.

“These winners will receive seed funding with a total value of up to Rp 600 million based on their business proposals,” Ari said.

The two top entrants will also have the chance to visit the United Kingdom for one week in January to meet with local social entrepreneurs and key experts.

“We want to get people into the global network, where they can engage with colleagues around the globe and develop their work,” Crossey said.

Social enterprise may not sound familiar, yet it is not a new phenomenon in Indonesia.

“Our social and cultural backgrounds have established a strong spirit of togetherness in us,” said Mahardhika. “But, the term ‘social entrepreneurship’ is not familiar or widely recognized in Indonesia. That’s why it’s hard for people to move forward or scale up in professionalism.”

During the CEC program, entrepreneurs will learn more from key experts in the United Kingdom and Indonesia on the scientific tools needed to establish successful social enterprises.

“In the United Kingdom, they have financial and business know-how, but they lack in the spirit of togetherness,” Mahardhika said. “In Indonesia, we have a very strong spirit, while we’re lacking in the business and financial know-how. Therefore, the program will be a valuable learning experience for both countries.”

For more information, visit www.britishcouncil.or.id.