Giessen an der Lahn – When people asking: why do I engage in agricultural economics? I must say that, it is a rather complicated and long answer.
Why I’m interested in agricultural economics anyway? Does it to help farmer life, to bring agricultural sector contribute more to national development, or else? Those answers look like artificially exaggerated.
Well, I only said that it was a long story.
Indeed that my father was agricultural economist. Did I follow my father’s path or it was his wish?
When I was a child, I didn’t like his job. I considered my family is poor because I did not have nice toys and comic books. Well, what could we expect from a state researcher in the 1980s who also pursued Master and then PhD, and has two children.
As I remembered, he had a lot of books in his work room and family room. I did not like those because all money went to books; not toys, clothes and foods. I did not have good toys, comic, game watch, and video games as my friends had. It was different compared to the neighbours, who also his coworker at the same level. Their children had good toys and video games, even though they did not have many books as my father had.
He always worked on the field surveys in the remote areas. Sometimes it took weeks or even months. He also took me there sometimes on the school holiday. We spent one or two nights in a villager’s house in a swamp or mountainous area. At the beginning it was excited. I mean if compared to staying at home during school holiday. But, then I thought that it might be a kind of trick because he could not afford a family vacation.
I thought that it was more convenient if he just worked in the office like other coworkers. When asking him why he did those field surveys, he only said that it was for my school fee and clothes since his salary was barely enough for daily meal.
When I was in the middle school, my mother showed me several photos of him and his survey team. It showed that the team had to walk through the chest-depth swamp for hours to meet a group of swamp farmers. I was shocked and began to admire him. He worked very hard for the family.
Finally, he graduated and become a PhD among 2 other PhDs in the research center. His graduation inspired other researchers to continue their education. This achievement also inspired his extended family and people (even women) in his home village in Java, to pursue higher education. This gave me more respect toward him.
Then, his workload increased. His covered research area was more extensive, from the deep of swamp forest of Central Kalimantan to the Indonesian outskirts of Naibonat in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). He worked and stayed in the survey area for months, while mother stay in Banjarbaru with me and brothers. I thought that he tried hard to improve our family finance after suffering a lot from his master and PhD study. He also tried hard to prove that education brings prosperity to family.
As nearly finishing high school, I began to think about my future. Which subject I choose in the university? He suggested me medicine or engineering. But, I though it will be costly. Maybe he couldn’t afford this; moreover we have a new family member.
I decided to sign up at agricultural economics department in University of Lambung Mangkurat. It is local university in Kalimantan with cheap tuition fee. I knew that he quite disappointed as he expected me to sign up in a reputable university in Java. But, my mother convinced him and me that as long I took my education seriously, it will be alright.
Well, my decision was looked like one the best decision I ever made.
My beloved father died before my first semester in university finished. Infection because of diabetes and followed by renal complication took his life. He worked too hard and did not pay attention on his diet during his assignment in Naibonat.
I was terrified at that time. As the oldest son, I have obligation to take care the family, or at least lightened mother’s burden. She was a low paid (voluntary) teacher in a poor private school with the salary barely enough for a week meal. She was definitely incapable to support the family. She decided to open small shop in our house. The income was not much, but I was relieved because I can help my mother in the shop.
The low tuition fee helped me a lot. I studied hard and limited any fun occasion during study. As a return I have good mark and got a scholarship every year. My father’s coworkers also help us a lot. Some of them assume us like family and helped us, because they respected my father. During his live, he always helped them in term of research, career, social life, and religious problems. I really admire him more and more. His kindness to others returned back to us even after his death.
I got bachelor degree as the best graduated in my batch. My mother was very proud of me, and she said that she was lucky because she never spent a single Rupiah for my education fees. Then, I was accepted as a research assistant in AIAT Banjarbaru for a year contract. Well, I have to admit it was because of my father name, apart as the best graduated from agricultural economics department. At first, my superior underestimated me because I was too timid and has intercommunication issues. But, gradually I impressed him with my skill of computer, statistical programming, and English.
One day, one of my father coworker offered me to join her team to do a field survey on socioeconomic status of small-scale farmer in a swampland area. I was quite reluctant at the beginning because the survey areas were several villages in Babirik, a remote swampy area where my father should walk for hours in the chest-depth swamp. As I considered further, I agreed to join as it was a good opportunity to improve my skill and gain more experiences. I thought it would be really tough one, so I prepared well for a swamp expedition.
Arrived at the survey area, I really astonished as the condition was not bad as I supposed. The village access was convenient with paved road and some hard tarmac. The village also quite crowded and has electricity. Even, I saw some houses with satellite TV.
The coworker said that this condition had been improved significantly, thanks to the effort of my father and his team years ago. They succeeded to convince the local government to build a better road, bridges, swamp irrigation, extension service facilities and more. They showed to the government that the swamp has a magnificent potency for local development, improving rural livelihood, and contributing the district gross income. Years before, they surveyed the land potency, farmer readiness to engage full year farming, and possibility to introduce new crops. They established demo plots to show better farming technique and new rice varieties which have shorter growing period, better yields, and suitable for monotonous swamp. Soon after, the villagers followed the team’s recommendations one by one.
Some villagers still remembered my father. Surprisingly, they did not know my father by name, Muhammad Djamhuri. They remembered him as “a man who walked a lot”. Instead of inviting farmer to village chief’s house for interview and discussion, my father visited farmer’s house and farm on foot through the deep swamp forest.
This broke me down. I know he was humble person, but I did not know that he was very…very…very humble. He did not want to be famous by name. The acceptance of technology he brought and better villager livelihood truly made him happy.
Maybe this was one of the reasons why he did not want a promotion. He knew that the promotion means be transferred to another province or island to lead a research center. He refused it, even though he would get more salary, better facilities, and brighter career. He would accept if he was transferred to area near Banjarbaru.
He was buried in Banjarbaru – South Kalimantan, as his wish. He once said that his life and death was in Kalimantan soil, not in his home village in Java.