June 19, 2018
By Zakki Amali
Grobogan, CENTRAL JAVA. With abundant production, Grobogan district administration, is aiming to promote corn as alternative food through empowerment of female farmers group to produce corn rice.
Since 2012, there are a total of six female farmers group or locally known as KWT under Grobogan Food Security agency of Central Java, that focuses on processing corn and cassava.
Heru Pradjati, head of Food Diversity Consumption at the agency, said the six groups were selected for their commitment to develop corn.
The six groups, — Maju Jaya, KWT Maju Jaya, KWT Murih Santosa, and KWT Gupit Sari, KWT Mekar Abadi, KWT Sejati– received trainings to process food, promotion, entrepreneural facility, access to capital through a micro lending program by Bank of Jateng and completed all administrative requirements.
“Making corn as new icon of alternative food is shown through empowering vulnerable groups such as female farmers and housewives. [They receive] trainings and [processing] equipment,” said Heru. “We still assist [their business] by promoting them through exhibition and competitions.”
Purminah, head of Maju Jaya female farmers group in Toron subdistrict, Grobogan said that her group took on alternative food after she was challenged by one of her relatives to process corn into noodle and rice.
“Corn is seen as poor people’s food, in spite of its high nutritional value. I was told by one of my relatives that there was corn development program at the [Grobogan Food Security] agency, [so] I joined the program,” said Purminah, who in 2014, received a drilling machine, an oven and a molding machine, all of the equipment needed to turn corn flour into rice grains.
With four million-rupiah (US$ 286) capital per production, she and three other active members can process up to 30 kilograms of corn seeds into 50 packages of 250 grams corn rice. All processing activities take place in her house in Boloh Village, Grobogan.
Meanwhile, another group in neighboring village, Klampok, has been processing corn not just into rice, but crackers and flour, since 2012.
Ambar, the group’s chief, said they were established after receiving training from Grobogan Trade Agency in collaboration with an Islamic charity organization called Lembaga Amil Zakat Infak dan Shodaqoh (Lazis) in Semarang of Central Java.
“Abundant corn resource is the village’s potential that can harnessed as alternative staple food. Before the training from Grobogan Food Security agency, we didn’t know how to process into corn rice,” said Ambar adding that promotion of the end products was done by word of mouth marketing to close relatives, Islamic study groups among housewives, and exhibitions.
Between 2013 and 2017, Grobogan corn production has increased from 559,528 tons to 807,894 tons. Land allocation for corn also increased from 102,062 hectares to 132,859 hectares during the same period.
For 2018, Grobogan district administration targeted an additional 20,000 hectares of land allocated from the Grobogan Forest areas managed by villagers under the Forest Village Community Agency (Lembaga Masyarakat Desa Hutan) to boost corn production mainly for animal feed factories.
“We coordinated with Perhutani [red: state-owned enterprise in forestry sector] to use their lands. The workers are people living in surrounding forest areas who are members of the community,” said Edhie Sudaryanto, head of Grobogan Agriculture agency.
Nevertheless, Sudaryanto said that the government is pushing for corn to be further processed to give added value to farmers.
“I encourage for corn to be processed so it would have added values for farmers. Not just being sold in its raw form. Currently, probably about 90 percent [of corn production] is being absorbed by factories,” he said adding that the topography and ease of planting are the reasons for increasing corn production in the district.
More Promotional and Marketing Works Needed
Despite efforts to turn corn rice into Grobogan alternative staple food, marketing remains a challenge for producers.
Purminah and her group can produce up to 60 packages of 250 grams corn rice per one shipment, supplied to two major supermarkets in Purwodadi subdistrict, which sold out within two months with Rp150,000 (ten dollars) profit.
“There’s profit but not much because of lack of promotion. So, there is still low demand and we only produce twice in a week for a total of 100 of 250 grams packages,” said Purminah. “I can produce four times per week but there’s no demand so we produce only twice a week.”
To reach more customers, her group turned to social media such as Facebook and an online marketplace, Bukalapak, since 2016.
“I am still having problems to market [the product] as we only sell from the house, which also where we produce them. So, we opted for online [promotion] as we don’t have a strategic market place. Up until now, most customers are from the supermarkets and exhibition visitors,” she said adding that profit can reach from Rp150,000 (ten dollar) to Rp200,000 (US$14) for one delivery to Semarang and Jakarta.
Purminah explains her group’s products entered supermarkets and exhibitions on the second year of production.
“The first year, we only produced small amount in low quality, for example, there were moss in the flour,” she recalled. “Then, in the second year, [we] were able to rid the corn rice of moss. Then, we sold them to supermarkets and exhibitions.”
Ambar of Maju Jaya business group, also said that she wanted to distribute their corn rice products to other regions.
“We want to distribute our products to other regions, through malls in every cities, as one way to promote the products and our district to a wider market,” she said.
In its current development, Maju Jaya farmers group products are sold through consignments in stores and accept orders from other cities, including Bogor, Jakarta, Surabaya, Solo and Semarang via phone or online.
She said the group can produce three to six quintals of corn rice for up to two months with selling price at Rp7,000 (US$ 0.50) per 250 grams and Rp12,000 (US$ 0.86) per 500 grams.
Meanwhile, Purminah said that her group’s work has been recognized by government officials from Central Sulawesi, Central Kalimantan and Banten, who came to learn how corn is processed, following their promotional activities on social media.
However, Purminah and Ambar said they still need support in promoting their products.
“We tried to market the group’s products by getting them into exhibitions. The market for corn rice has yet to be developed as people still prefer and are accustomed to rice. We want to increase public awareness on corn so that demand will also increase,” said Heru Pradjati, head of Food Diversity Consumption at the Grobogan Food Security agency.
The female farmers groups aren’t the only ones working to promote corn rice and corn byproducts. Bati (65) has been processing and selling corn rice for the past 19 years in Tanggungharjo village of Grobogan district and saved enough money to send her two sons to vocational schools.
“Alhamdulillah (red: praise to God). I was able to send my kids to school from selling corn rice, they are married now but I am still making corn rice as my livelihood,” said Bati, who earns at least Rp450,000 (US$32) per day.
Bati can process up to 50 kilograms of white and yellow corns into 50 packages of four ounces of corn rice per day. She would sell them for Rp9,000 (US$ 0.64) per package.
“At first, [I] sold [corn rice] by myself to surrounding neighborhoods and Grobogan market. Now, customers come to my house to buy corn rice. My costumers also come from cities. Sometimes, orders [came] from small stalls and catering too. So, corn rice is now served as alternative to paddy rice,” she explained to Ekuatorial.
Meanwhile, Iman Nur Solihin (40), a Toroh villager of Grobogan district, initially just wanted to be creative with his food, to be sold at the Purwodadi Square in the 1990s.
“I sold corn rice as no one else did. I tried selling it and was well received. Up until now, it has become the signature [food] of our stall,” said Solihin, who uses corn for other dishes such as fried rice and white corn rice with lompong soup (taro leaf soup).
Solihin said that customers keep coming to his stall not just because of health reason but they have become fond of corn rice and for some, it’s purely nostalgic as they have been consuming corn rice since they were little.
He said he can sell a total of 20 kilograms of corn rice in one night and as many as 60 kilograms during weekend and public holidays.
For both Solihin and Bati, corn rice as already an iconic food of Grobogan, especially with increasing corn rice producers and sellers.
“We hope that [local] government will continue to promote corn rice as the alternative staple food and it can also be an attraction for tourists visiting Grobogan,” said Solihin. Ekuatorial.
Zakki Amali is a Semarang, Central Java based journalist.