Giving Farmers The Power To Change Their Destiny
"If I want to plant and don’t have savings, I need to take a loan from a middleman…" a farmer laments. "If the crops fail, they don’t care. All that is important for them is that the debt is paid off,” he tells filmmakers of Konco, a documentary about Vasham a Jakarta-based social enteprise. He is not alone. This is an all too common story from Indonesia’s smallholder farmers. Over 18 million smallholder farmers in the country earn less than the national minimum wage of US$48 per month. Why? They lack upfront capital for farming input like fertilisers and seeds, and can't take a bank loan because they have no suitable collateral.
Watch Konco, a 10-minute documentary about how Vasham
is helping improve the lives and livelihoods of Indonesia’s smallholder farmers.
With no alternatives, farmers resort to working with "middlemen" for financing, but this money comes with strings attached. Farmers are left at the mercy of these traders who demand that crops be sold to them for low prices, trapping them in an unending cycle of poverty.
With such a bleak future in farming, it's no wonder that many are turning to jobs as labourers instead.
In the last ten years, the number of Indonesian farmers has dropped by 25% but the agrarian country has turned to imports - with nearly IDR10 trillion (US$810 million) worth of corn coming into the country annually.
Moved by the plight of these farmers and their issues with food security, Irvan Kolonas started Vasham. The social enterprise (SE) provides farmers with financing, expertise and income security to help them break out of the poverty cycle. The SE's innovative end-to-end solution offers farmers collateral free loans, quality farming inputs, training from on-the-ground field officers, as well as fair prices and price guarantees for their crops.
In Sanskrit, Vasham means “giving the people the power to change their own destiny.” And this is the ethos which has shaped Vasham's work.
Pictured: Irvan Kolonas - Founder of Vasham Kosa Sejahtera
In his high school years, Irvan read “Banker to the Poor” by Muhammad Yunus and it had a profound effect on him - changing his worldview. He particularly loved Yunus's idea of what a social business is:
"An organisation that sells a product/service that has direct social impact not for free but for a price, to create sustainability and scale."
Born into a family of (big) business-owners, going the social enterprise route was a tough call for Irvan. But he says Vasham helps him fulfil a greater purpose. “[Vasham brings] about revolution through innovative thinking to lift the lives of many poor farmers in Indonesia and hopefully in the world. A lot of people think about helping farmers, but we put thought into action and we create our own much-needed revolution," he says.
Since 2013, the social enterprise has served over 1,700 corn farmers in Lampung (southern Sumatra) and distributed over IDR34.7billion of loans. In the next five years, Vasham is planning to expand its operation to parts of Java, Sulawesi and the rest of Sumatra. Vasham will also duplicate its innovative programme for soy and rice farmers.
Vasham recently received a grant from the DBS Foundation, which will help contribute to their long-term goal of helping one million smallholder farmers out of poverty. They hope to see a future where Indonesia can reach self-sufficiency in agriculture.
If you want to find more about socially conscious living in Asia, check out Asia For Good's social enterprise directory.
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