I Gede Artha Sudiarsana is a young Balinese entrepreneur; through his self-made mushroom agribusiness, his mission is to inspire other youth to regenerate Indonesia’s agricultural industry.
It’s not often you come across a young man who, even before leaving for university, has already planned to go back home. For I Gede Artha Sudiarsana, this was always the vision. To empower and educate himself so that he could return and do the same for his village.
Gede’s business is called ‘Gede Jamur’, or ‘Big Mushroom’. To him, this is more than just a reference to his name and work, he sees it as a metaphor for what he wants mushrooms to do for his village – to grow and prosper, or in other words, to mushroom! His family lives in Pidpid Village, a remote area deep in the mountains of Karangasem, East Bali. The top of Mount Agung, only 8km away, looms over his farm, visible behind the trees.
“There’s a lot of sleeping land around here”, Gede explains. “But the farmers don’t focus on one crop. The landscape is hard to manage and often there isn’t enough water so they have an ‘I’ll make what I can, with that there is’ attitude.” Growing naturally around Gede’s own family compound are durian trees, bananas, coconuts and organic avocados – a few of which fell from the tree, ready to eat, as we spoke. These crops are often just used for own consumption, or for ceremonies. Many of the community there rear cattle, like Gede’s parents did before he introduced the mushrooms.
It wasn’t until he visited a friend during high school, who also had a farm, did he realise the possibilities. He friend’s farm was organised, and prosperous, showing Gede the potential his own village had.
So, charged with this enlightening moment, he went to Universitas Udayana in Denpasar, taking a degree in Agricultural Business. It was here he was introduced to the potential of mushrooms. Taking this seriously, Gede – along with help from his family and friends – he started a small-scale mushroom farm at home in 2015.
In 2016, he joined a competition called Duta Petani Muda Indonesia ‘Ambassadors of Young Indonesian Farmers’, run by OxFam Indonesia. Out of over 500 people nationwide, he took third place, the judges impressed by his vision to empower his own village. What the competition really did, however, was make him realise that he wasn’t alone. That there were other Indonesians out there who wanted to uplift agriculture in Indonesia, inspiring him further.
“A lot of younger people leave the village, often after high school or even middle school, to search for simple work in developed areas,” he confesses. “They want easy money, straight away. This means labour jobs, or helping out in shops or restaurants. They think that farming is difficult, not to mention dirty and hot. They see it as undignified, often associated with poverty.”
The irony, he explains, is that when you’ve organised your farm like he has, one can make equal (or more than) the money working for someone else. But at least efforts will be empowering their own families and the village. Once you’ve built it up, you might even work less hours. “The young folk lack the knowhow, but also the patience.”
Asked what it would take to convince these youth to come back and farm, Gede says it requires proof that it really can generate a good income, but also a model for them to follow. Something he is proving himself. He remembers his first sale of 40kg of fresh mushrooms; he and his brother Edi driving to Tabanan with big grins on their faces. He wants others to have that same feeling.
Why is it even important that Indonesian’s take up farming? To this, Gede threw in a quote from Indonesia’s first President Sukarno, exclaiming that farming is “hidup mati satu bangsa”, the lifeblood of the people. “Farming is actually the sexiest job there is! We’re feeding our own people; if we (as a nation) cannot even fulfil our ability to feed ourselves, how can we expect to move forward in other industries?”
With this philosophy, Gede is hoping for the regeneration of Indonesia’s agricultural industry through the younger generation. He has made a local farming cooperative (Pertiwi Mesari) who work together to grow the mushroom industry. With the help of his family and a few women from his village, he has grown his mushroom farm to 15.000 units and even sells fried mushrooms snacks under the brand Nyang Luh.
I Gede Artha Sudiarsana (IG: @gedejamur) will be speaking at this year’s Ubud Food Festival, which, with this year’s theme ‘Heroes’, will celebrate the people and stories behind our food. See Gede, other inspiring Indonesian (and international) food activists, writers, chefs and more this 26-28 June 2020.
Program and tickets can be found at ubudfoodfestival.com – get 20% off your Food Lover Pass by entering ‘MNB20’