“There’s something about a country called…Indonesia”

January 2017, Drs Simon Jeffery and Lucy Crockford of the Soil and Water Management Centre (SWMC) at Harper Adams University visited Indonesia to address a conference on sustainable agriculture in Yogyakarta and to network with interested universities across the island of Java. Simon and Lucy were accompanied by Prof Mike Theodorou and Dr Trisha Toop for the first week, who represented the Agricultural Centre for Sustainable Energy Systems (ACSES), providing a broad range of research interests from the university.


The International Conference of Sustainable Agriculture (ICoSA) was well attended with over 200 delegates registered. Key note speeches from Prof Theodorou and others including Dr Sander de Vries from Wageningen University, the Netherlands, Prof Hironori Yasuda from Yamagata University, Japan and Prof Phil Bermer from Otago University, New Zealand covered all aspects of sustainable agriculture. Interesting assessment of new production systems to reduce energy costs and that improve the polyphenols in fruits, which ultimately improve taste, indicated the future in the fruit production sector. Dr Sanders focused largely on using a Global Yield Map to identify areas that need to be improved for future food security while Prof Yasuda focused on control of pests. Prof Theodorou however introduced the largely undiscovered gut flora in ruminant animals and how these are actually anaerobic as opposed aerobic as originally believed. Details such as the fate of the bolus (the ball of grass in a cow’s mouth) indicated how much science there is left to discover even in this very specialist area.

The conference held a number of parallel sessions with Lucy presenting a paper published from 2015 discussing the lag in response to changes in agricultural practice while Simon focused on Biochar and the optimistic science around its use (an article on this is forthcoming for SWMC members). Trisha shared her thoughts on Anaerobic Digestion and the optimisation of the system in an agricultural context.


Clockwise from top left: Dr Lucy Crockford; Dr Simon Jeffery; Dr Trish Toop; Prof Mike Theodorou 

The following day, an interesting trip to a rice padi farm and fruit (Sallach) farm gave great insight into the challenges faced by Indonesian farmers, which are not unlike those now being faced by UK farmers in temperate climates. Agricultural intensification has led to the removal of large swathes of forest with the expected increases in soil erosion and deteriorating water quality observed. Control of pests and diseases also play a large part in the management of these systems which on occasion include biological means such as culturing fish in rice padi fields. The fish are fed and therefore produce mineral N for the plants to use while also feeding on pests such as grasshoppers that afflict the rice growing. The farmers found it difficult to identify any drawbacks to their agricultural system but questions could still be posed about the effect on the water quality and wider environment, including the production of greenhouse gases.


Clockwise from top left: Fieldtrip group; fish growing in a padi field; Mike and Trish getting insights; fish farm


Rice padi fields and the fish farm

Sallach fruit, or snake skin fruit, has an acquired taste but surprisingly varies greatly between varieties. It seems extremely popular in Java with stalls selling the fruit on every street corner making a welcome snack although it does turn quickly if kept in your bag for an extended period of time! Sallach fruit is largely grown in areas where rice cannot be, i.e. sloping land without a direct access to water. Estimates of establishment of a fruit producing crop ranged from 2 years to 25 years, indicating the language barriers that exist when attempting to connect with tropical agriculturalists.


Visit to the Sallach Farm

The field day was rounded off by a tour of Borodour Buddhist temple which was impressive and disappointing at the same time as it is actually constructed around a large hill! Irrespective, it provided outstanding views of Mercapi volcano and the wider lands while also the opportunity for local people to get a selfie with a rather hot and sweaty white Irish lecturer!

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Clockwise from top left: Indonesian students; Getting the guided tour; Mike and the temple; Mike and view

Simon and Lucy continued the networking tour with visits to University in Yogya, another university in Yogya, MuhammedDiyah Malang, University of Brawijaya Malang, and UNPAD in Bandung. At each we met with faculty members and presented to the students about studying at Harper Adams University either at Masters or PhD level. We are quietly confident that with a scholarship available to Indonesian students that we may welcome a number of them in September.


Thanks to Harper Adams University for funding the trip and to Steve Buckle for his introductions and excellent guidance on where to stay and get a cold one after a long day flying the HAU flag.



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