Hello, Javarian! Before we enter the history of heirloom rice, let’s get to know about Indonesia first. It is a public secret that rice is one of the staples of Indonesian food. Rice, for Indonesian people, is like pasta to Italians, or Burgers to Americans; we can’t live without them. In fact, Indonesian people love their rice so much that there’s even the term “belum makan kalau tidak makan nasi” coined, which translates to ‘It’s not a complete meal unless there’s rice’. To give you an illustration of how significant rice is to Indonesia, it was even included in the official Indonesian country’s symbol.
Locals almost add rice to every meal. Even Pizza, or any other foods that you wouldn’t usually add rice to.
Eating rice is a must for Indonesians, they’re considered as a ‘culture’ here in this tropical country. We could see that this has affected a number of international food companies who wanted to expand to Indonesia, especially fast-food companies as they had to adapt and add rice to their menu in order to capture the public’s interests.
Yet, most people are only aware of two variants when it comes to Indonesian rice: the white and red rice. There’s not many who knows other than those two varieties, even though ironically, Indonesia actually owns more than 7000 authentic varieties of rice, yet almost all of them are forgotten and abandoned. Let us tell you how this tragedy happened.
The Start of Change
Type of Heirloom Rice in Indonesia
Prior to 1970, Indonesia used to harvest more than 7000 varieties of rice, each with its own unique characteristics. Unlike what we have nowadays (where rice is usually planted on rice paddy) beaches, lakes, forests, and streams used to be the original habitats of these grains. Just imagine what it was like to plant rice in such environments.
Each and one of these heirloom rice were treated with the utmost care by the farmers, mixing organic and natural ingredients into the soil to ensure quality rice. As such, the combination of distinctive territory as well as the love put in by the farmers created diverse types of rice with rare textures, colours, and taste. Sadly, this had to stop when the government implemented a certain program.
In 1969, the government created a new agriculture policy that aims to intensify rice crops, where farmers are only allowed to plant selected types of rice that require less time to harvest, whilst also producing more grains at the same time compared to other varieties.
As a result, this policy became a restriction for the farmers to plant the heirloom rice, even though at the time, planting heirloom rice was considered a tradition and culture for these unfortunate farmers. Unlike heirloom rice, which can be reused as a seed for the upcoming seasons, the selected varieties are only effective for a one-time plantation, forcing farmers to buy new seeds every time.
This really saddened the farmers. Furthermore, they were forced to mix chemicals into the soil and use chemical-based pesticide just to prevent the crops from dying. The majority of farmers who didn’t use chemicals were not happy with this decision, because this means that not only they have got to spend more on the initial ingredients, the usage of chemicals could also potentially harm the surrounding environment of the farm.
The farmers had no choice but to comply. They will be prosecuted if they do not do as what the regulations told them to. The policy was undoubtedly disappointing for Indonesian farmers, who believed that truly authentic Indonesian crops can only be harvested through non-artificial matters and the usage of local grain seeds.
But, there’s still hope. We were saved by a number of farmers who secretly planted authentic Indonesian heirloom rice. They did this by utilizing buckets, and they surprisingly grew well. The heirloom rice were cultivated this way until the reformation happened. We were really lucky. If it were not for those farmers, maybe we wouldn’t have those rice varieites anymore
The Rendezvous between Mrs. Helianti and the farmers
As time went on, Mrs. Helianti, being a food enthusiast finally met the farmers who cultivated the heirloom rice to this day. She became very interested the moment she laid her eyes on the colorful rice.
She was then introduced to the various textures, flavors, aroma and health benefits that each rice owns. The farmers also began to open up about the situation and the story of how these rices existed, almost disappeared and emerged again thanks to a number of brave and skillful farmers.
Worried that these heirloom rice might be forgotten and abandoned, the farmers kindly asked Mrs. Helianti, wishing for the continuation of heirloom rice existence for generations to come,
“Mbah ini sudah tua, dan anak cucu sudah tidak ada lagi yang mau bertani, Mbah khawatir kekayaan padi warisan nusantara ini akan hilang ditelan jaman, padahal ini adalah subsidi Tuhan untuk Indonesia, dan pasti ada alasan kenapa Indonesia dikaruniai ribuan jenis padi. Jangan sampai kita menjadi bangsa yang tidak bersyukur karena tidak memelihara apa yang diberikan.”
“I am already old, and neither my kids nor my grandchildren are interested in farming anymore. I am worried that the abundance of heirloom rice that exists in Indonesia would one day disappear. These are gifts from God, and there must be a reason as to why he bestowed us with such a diverse array of heirloom rice. Please do not let this country disregard what he had given to us”
Moved by such words, Mrs. Helianti who were amazed by the heirloom rice swore to popularize and tell the public about its existence. She believed that as long as there is the desire to support and enjoy those authentic Indonesian heirloom rice, the farmers would also be passionate on cultivating them.
Javara’s Heirloom Rice are often often bought as gifts to diplomat or even ministers of other countries.
Mrs. Helianti then partnered with these farmers by educating them and helping them make their products achieve international quality, gaining certifications and helping them on distributions, marketing, branding and sales.
In early 2008, the plan was to pack the rice in the 5kg packaging, which is the usual white rice packaging that we could find in Indonesia. However, due to the rarity of the heirloom rice, there were only a number of farmers who were able to produce them. The first delivery that Mrs. Helianti received were a mix of 8 varieties of heirloom rice, weighing 25kg in total. With these in mind, Mrs. Helianti creatively chose to pack the rice in a gift set of 8 varieties, each of 200g quantity. The packaging was also meant as a medium to educate the public of just how diverse Indonesian heirloom rice crops are.
Long story short, after going through a number optimalization, Mrs. Helianti together with the farmers finally succeeded in increasing the quality and quantity of heirloom rice. As a result, Indonesia is now able to enjoy the delight of heirloom rice that’s almost gone for good, whilst benefitting the farmers at the same time.
As of now, Javara heirloom rice comes with various packaging, from a 5kg and 1kg paper box, 900gr pouches, to the handmade woven bamboo gift set. The heirloom rice are often bought as gifts to diplomat or even ministers of other countries. In fact, they have been exported to Italy since 2012.
From the story above, we can conclude that behind these colourful rice, there lies a story full of tragedy and perseverance. Whilst we might not realize it, Indonesia has a truly tremendous agriculture variety. Indonesia is truly grateful for the farmers who cultivated these heirloom rice even though it was forbidden. If they weren’t existing, we might not even know that there are other varieties of rice.
You can check the types of rice at https://javara.co.id/javarapedia/
If you’re interested in purchasing the authentic Indonesian heirloom rice, you could order them at bit.ly/javarastore .