This year’s prolonged drought has cast a harrowing spell on coffee farmer Miyanto (only one name) and dozens of other coffee farmers in Central Java’s highland who have been building a reputation for local coffee produce since regrowing coffee in their village almost ten years ago.

Water scarcity in Sikunang village, 2339 meters above sea level, and one of the villages in the Dieng plateau, has threatened the flavor and quality of Dieng coffee beans in the upcoming harvest season.

“I planted the new crop after the previous harvest in August. The beans we will yield from this planting season will be stunted because we do not have water for irrigation, affecting the coffee flavor,” Miyanto, 46, said during a chat in his coffee stall located at the foot of Mount Bisma.

“I often lament because it is difficult to get water, and our harvest volume is reduced,” he added.

Farmers on the plateau, including Miyanto, mainly grow potatoes, cabbage, and carica, an endemic, papaya-like fruit that only grows there. Miyanto said he wanted to reintroduce coffee in the area, as their ancestors used to grow it.

Therefore, he started planting coffee in 2015, and his fellow farmers in the village followed suit. As a result, Miyanto said he has been receiving feedback from coffee aficionados who told him Dieng coffee tastes good.

They had a respite in November until early December, but it was not enough to water the plants, and the rain stopped in the second week of December, dashing the farmers’ hope for a good harvest.

Another potato farmer in the village, Nisem (also one name), 50, said she can only have about two hours of daily water supply for her plants, reduced from the usual four hours.

“I source the water from a nearby river, but there is not enough water as the river is dry,” she said, adding that she still managed to harvest recently despite the water shortage, even though the potatoes were stunted. The smaller potato size means she could only sell her harvest at a lowered price of 8,500 rupiah per kilogram from the usual 15,000 rupiah.

Miyanto and Nisem said they have no idea about the climate change buzz, but what is evidently changing for them this year is the planting pattern, weather, and temperature.

“This year’s dry season is longer and hotter than usual. I feel like it has been going on for two potato seasons or about eight months; normally, it would last about five months,” she said.

The prolonged dry season also means a higher possibility of the frozen dew phenomenon, or what locals refer to as embun upas, to emerge in Dieng, where it could be hot during the day in the dry season, but the temperature would drop to almost or even below zero degrees at night, and the plateau would be covered with frozen dew in the morning.

“City people would excitedly come to Dieng to see the frozen dew, but farmers here would cry because our plants would be dead frozen, and our harvested crops would also be frozen and rotten that we can’t sell them. It would mean a harvest failure for us,” Miyanto said.

While farmers in Dieng would stick to farming to maintain their plants despite the water scarcity, or occasionally turned to work in tourism services as the plateau is a major tourist destination in Java, vegetable farmers in Butuh hamlet at the foot of Mount Sindoro in Magelang, Central Java, had to temporarily switch occupation to construction workers in urban areas since they can’t farm due to water shortage.

“Only farmers who have a direct water source can continue farming, while others who don’t went down to the cities to look for temporary jobs,” hamlet chief Lilik Setiyawan said.

Indonesia’s meteorology agency BMKG said the dry season, which usually lasts from June to October, has been prolonged and intensified by the El Niño climate phenomenon or a situation when sea face temperature in the Pacific Ocean rises above the normal condition, and the Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), or a seesaw-like weather phenomenon when one side of the ocean is warmer than usual, while the other side is cooler and would swing the other way.

The IOD is a natural climate phenomenon that can bring either heavy rainfall or drought, impacting agriculture and water resources.

BMKG chief Dwikorita Karnawati said on 28 Dec that half of Indonesia, especially Kalimantan, has entered the rainy season, which will peak from January to April.

While Java Island as the main growing region, Bali, and East Nusa Tenggara would experience little to no rain until early to mid-next year, causing disruption to planting pattern, further harvest failure, and reducing plant resistance to pests that are rampant in dry weather conditions.

Ruskiyah (also one name), a farmer in Puntang village of Indramayu regency in West Java, and about 110 farmers in the local farming community have suffered from the latter two impacts.

The rice farmers failed to harvest in October because of water scarcity, and the lack of water to irrigate the rice fields has turned the fields into dry patches of land where rats and worm pests breed.

We are buried in debt with dry, parched paddy fields under the ongoing hot spell and lack of rainfall

Ruskiyah, farmer in Puntang village

Out of the 290 hectares of rice fields that these farmers tend to, only about 30 percent could be harvested yet with low rice quality, while the rest of the fields could not generate produce at all.

“We should have harvested twice in April and August, but we failed the one in August, and I incurred a loss of 40 million rupiah in a failure to break even the capital for planting,” he said.

 It is a double blow for the farmers who, due to the failed harvest, are unable to repay the capital invested when planting rice, consequently making it difficult to secure another round of capital loans.

“We are buried in debt with dry, parched paddy fields under the ongoing hot spell and lack of rainfall,” he added.

Indonesia’s rice production has slightly dropped due to El Nino, and government estimates showed it will not bounce back in 2024, President Joko Widodo said on December 22 during a presentation on Indonesia’s economic outlook in 2024. “We have secured commitments to import one million tons of rice from India and two million tons from Thailand; at least our rice reserves are secured now,” Jokowi said.

*This story was first published on Berita Harian website.

About the writer
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Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata

Ismira Lutfia Tisnadibrata is a freelance journalist regularly contributing to Berita Harian, NHK, BenarNews and Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa). She has been a journalist for more than a decade and has...

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