Dimas D. Laksmana is pursuing a doctoral study at the Chair of development and cultural studies at Passau University. As part of the IndORGANIC research project, his research with organic farmers focuses on organic agriculture as an intersection between science and culture from an institutional perspective. He conducted 9-month fieldwork between 2017 and 2019 in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. He co- authored a journal article that investigates different notions of sustainability as enacted by state and non-state actors in organic farming. He has co-written articles on youth activism in alternative agriculture and on organic coconut sugar makers for Inside Indonesia and The Newsletter.
Beyond our gardens and forests: The social lives of artisanal organic coconut sugar
Coconut sugar is widely consumed in Southeast Asia. However, granulated organic coconut sugar was primarily created for the global market. Therefore, it is opposite to flex crop and exemplifies smallholder farmers’ intense integration into the global market. This paper contributes to the debates on artisanship and smallholder farmers’ autonomy from the commodity market by examining how artisanal coconut sugar makes lives possible in the face of an unpredictable global market and nearly non-existent local market. I particularly investigate whether market certainty is attainable amidst the tension between a highly variable commodity and expected uniformity in organic certification. This paper is based on 9-month fieldwork between 2017 and 2019 in Central Java, Indonesia. Historically, NGOs and farmer communities created a commodity chain of organic granulated coconut sugar and farmer cooperatives to improve farmers’ livelihood. The negotiations of risk and responsibility in this commodity chain stem from the ambiguous nature of farmers’ cooperatives. They are profit-oriented enterprises that are underlain by mutual assistance and familial value. I frame the practice of coconut sugar making as artisanship where the relationships between embodied practice and ecological conditions are central. I present the tensions that arise in spaces where coconut sugar is made (kitchens) and stored (houses), and where coconut sap is collected (gardens). This analysis suggests farmers’ hope for improving their livelihoods is caught between their dependency on the export market and internal conflicts in farmers’ cooperatives. So greater market integration temporarily improves farmers’ livelihood at the expense of new uncert ainty and dependency.
Affiliation: Passau University, Germany