Inspired by a traditional farming philosophy, natural food products under Javara social enterprise treasure the country’s food biodiversity. Javara, Sanskrit for champion, aims to provide systemic solutions for small-scale local food producers across the archipelago.
“The idea is to endorse the country’s artisanal natural food products made by champion local food producers,” said Helianti Hilman, co-founder and executive director of PT Kampung Kearifan Indonesia, which established Javara in 2009.
The company was set up to assist food producers and offers financial aid, development training, access to the market, proper technology as well as promoting local products worldwide.
Although most of Javara products are organic certified, Helianti said the aim is not solely to support organic farming as she finds the definition of organic much too constricting.
Instead, Helianti was deeply moved by traditional philosophies the farmers share — something she learned during her frequent visits to farming communities around the country, from Aceh to Sulawesi.
“My main purpose is to sustain indigenous wisdom of holistic farming, which in my opinion possesses greater value than common organic farming methods,” she said.
During her trips, she witnessed firsthand how tight-knit communities regard farming as a spiritual act — applying only the best treatment to the crops and offering the finest products to consumers.
“The farmers taught me how to respect and interact harmoniously with nature, such as by walking barefoot on farm fields and how to maintain positive energy to keep the crops healthy.”
She applied this personal experience while selecting members for Mitra Javara Tani, a group of small-scale food producers chosen to produce Javara’s first-class products.
Today, the group has more than 50,000 food producers as members, who are personally screened by Helianti.
“We make our products from the heart and it is one of the essential factors which separate Javara from others.”
As part of the efforts to preserve the natural ecosystem, she encourages farmers to grow seasonal crops in rotation accordingly — not the same crops all year round, believing the act of tampering the seasons will disturb the ecosystem and damage environment in the long run.
As a result, many of Javara products are seasonal, a crucial matter that Helianti has to relentlessly clarify to customers, particularly retail chain stores, which prefer goods to be available at all times.
She also encouraged small time farmers to practice intercropping farming system to allow them growing variety of crops in limited space but generate many different produces at one time.
“Farmers, who in the beginning only produced coconut palm sugar, now also grow spices, such as ginger, galangal and turmeric, which are then processed by Javara into bottled powders.”
Land scarcity is also the key reason behind Helianti’s decision to produce only finest local food products.
“The only beneficial solution we have right now to save farming as a profession as well to safeguard local food biodiversity is by cultivating and producing first-class products to be exported worldwide,”
she said. “This way farmers can still make decent earnings out of their small farming land.”
Land limitation has also triggered more innovative product development; Javara is working with an established financial institution to offer loan facilities for equipment that farmers can use to expand their products.
Mobilizing conscious local consumers to take part in ensuring food biodiversity is another challenge Javara faces.
“If we really want to have a sustainable food system, then we must educate the food buyers,” Helianti says.
One of the most effective ways is by using an attractive food label, which tells the story behind each product.
“Packaging is designed to highlight the producer’s work while at the same time informing food buyers about the products they are buying. This way, consumers are aware of our mission and sincerely support these small-scale farmers.”
Previously, she said people were interested in buying natural or organic rice regardless of their crop variant. These days she is delighted to find out many prefer different varieties of natural rice. This trend shows food buyers have the power to develop a sustainable food system.
“We can choose to purchase naturally-grown local foods that are not only nutritious and ecofriendly but more importantly, possess an array of delicious biodiversity,” said Helianti, who with her team of urban agriculture experts holds monthly workshop to show people they can preserve food biodiversity from home.
Javara is recognized for its wide collection of the country’s indigenous rice, all naturally grown without chemical pesticides and freshly milled without added preservatives or coloring and are free of bleaching and synthetic fragrance.
Javara carries more than 10 traditional rice varieties — polished or unpolished, such as menthik susu, rojolele gebyok, Jowo melik, cempo merah, andel abang, saudah and cempo hitam.
“Every rice variety has its own devoted patrons. However, I suggest people to buy unpolished rice because they’re very high in fiber, vitamins and minerals.”