Empowering Indonesian Farmers: The Inspiring Journey of Emily Sutanto
"What comes from the heart touches the heart." - Emily Sutanto
Allow me to introduce Emily Sutanto, a remarkable female pioneer who has emerged as a guiding light for Indonesian farmers seeking to elevate their produce to international prominence. My first encounter with Emily's impactful work came through a dear friend's introduction, a serendipitous connection that ignited a rich and engaging exchange. As we delved into the tapestry of her endeavors, I was enthralled by the inspiring narrative that unfolded.
Emily's resolute dedication to Indonesian farmers has not only empowered them, but has also positioned their products as world-class offerings. Our conversations resonated with shared enthusiasm as we discussed her tireless efforts to bridge the gap between local farmers and global markets. Through innovative approaches and unwavering commitment, Emily has orchestrated a transformative journey, propelling humble agricultural practices to the forefront of international attention. Her ability to turn ideas into impactful actions is awe-inspiring, and the impact she has had on countless lives within the Indonesian farming community is a testament to her unwavering spirit.
Over the span of more than a decade, Emily's commitment has blossomed from a spark of inspiration into an extraordinary enterprise. Her work stands as a testament to the power of vision, tenacity, and the belief in the potential for positive change. Emily's remarkable journey from the inception of her social initiatives to the present day serves as a shining example of what can be achieved through dedication, compassion, and a relentless pursuit of progress.
What inspired you to establish Bloom Agro and Sunria, and what are the organization's main objectives?
I came across this captivating story about a group of innovative small-scale farmers in Indonesia. They are pioneers in growing organic rice, but struggled to sell their rice at a better price. I have spent most of my life abroad, and I was intrigued by this situation. I decided to fly to Indonesia to understand the situation firsthand. What I discovered was a widespread issue that many small farmers across the nation were faced with—limited access to markets.
These farmers often find themselves dependent on intermediaries known as "tengkulak," who function as loan sharks. These middlemen lend money at the beginning of the harvest and then impose exorbitant interest rates. During the harvest, the prices would fall pushing the farmers further into debt. This poverty cycle has dominated Indonesia’s agricultural sector especially for smal-scale farmers for years.
Fueled by the desire to break this cycle, I embarked on a mission to empower these farmers. My focus was on helping them obtain international certifications for organic and fair trade practices, and facilitating them to export internationally. Starting with rice farmers, we have now collaborated with diverse producer groups in Indonesia to produce beyond rice: arenga sugar, sea salt, cashew nuts, herbs, spices, and a variety of vegetables. Our mission is clear—to bring about positive change in the lives of farmers and contribute to the well-being of our planet by promoting better livelihoods and a healthier environment.
Can you describe some specific sustainable practices that Bloom Agro implements to nurture a more sustainable environment?
We are cultivating our rice using System of Rice Intensification (SRI), a more sustainable method over traditional organic approaches. A significant difference is not flooding paddy fields with water during cultivation. This method has many advantages: it conserves water resources by an impressive 50%, reduces the emission of methane gases—a potent greenhouse gas—while at the same time increasing productivity by a remarkable 78%. Notably, consumers stand to gain from this technique, enjoying rice that is more aromatic with a higher nutrient content.
We are also working with farmers for arenga sugar which helps in the conservation of tropical rainforests, who were once subjected to slash-and-burn agricultural practices. As we empower how to craft arenga sugar, local residents are transitioning into rainforest guardians. This transformation stems from recognizing the potential of the rainforest as a sustainable income source.
In tandem with these agricultural endeavors, our commitment to sustainability is reflected in our packaging choices. We prioritize the utilization of eco-friendly materials, which minimizes our ecological footprint. Furthermore, transforms discarded materials into captivating artistic accentsfor our packaging. As we engage in these efforts, our dual commitment to agricultural innovation and environmental consciousness continues to drive positive change.
What are the primary challenges faced by small-scale farmers in Indonesia, and how does Bloom Agro address these challenges?
Fostering a shift in mindset of small farmers presents a significant challenge for me. Indonesia's cultural and traditional wealth runs deep, often anchoring farmers to age-old practices passed down by their ancestors. By opening the farmers’ mindset and broadening their perspectives, we are able to modernise agriculture and innovate processes. By doing so, we are able to compete effectively on the global stage, while simultaneously showcasing the nation's unique identity with pride.
What are the future plans and aspirations of Bloom Agro and Sunria, and how do they envision contributing to the well-being of farmers and the environment in the long term?
Indonesian farmers are remarkable at cultivating remarkable produce, yet a significant portion ends up exported as raw materials for foreign countries. We want our farmers to shift from raw material producers to producers of a finished product, so all the value-added income goes back to the farmers. With the added value generated, farmers are able to afford a university education for their children, who will grow up with great respect for the environment.
How do you manage stress and maintain her well-being while engaging in the challenging work of a social enterprise, and are there any mindfulness practices she promotes among her team members?
Stress is woven into the fabric of my work. As a social entrepreneur, I'm responsible for a multitude of tasks—lobbying the government, liaising with international buyers, fostering novel product development, and providing solutions to farmer groups with their challenges. When I am stressed out, I remind myself that when you plant goodness, you will harvest goodness. When our actions stem from genuine intentions and a clear conscience, the universe opens its doors to show you the way, especially if you are championing a good cause for many people.
I lead my team to always keep a positive mindset and remember that to be able to help others is a blessing in itself!
Emily Sutanto, a dedicated social entrepreneur, embarked on a transformative journey back to Indonesia after years of living abroad. Her mission was to break the chains of poverty that had entrapped thousands of small-scale Indonesian farmers for decades, offering them a chance at a better future. Through collective effort, they achieved a groundbreaking feat: attaining Indonesia's first international organic and fair trade certification. This pivotal accomplishment enabled them to venture into global markets, marking a triumphant turn in their fortunes.
Currently collaborating with farmers engaged in the production of rice, sugar, sea salt, cashews, cacao, spices, fruits, and vegetables, Emily is the visionary founder of Bloom Agro. She also spearheaded the creation of Sunria, an esteemed brand championing premium organic and fair trade products for the global market. Notably, her dedication led to the lifting of the rice export ban, resulting in the first-ever export of organic rice in Indonesia's history.
Emily's unwavering commitment has garnered her numerous accolades, including the Special Appreciation for Food Crops Export 2019 from the Indonesian Ministry of Agriculture, the Sustainability Award 2015 from the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Brussels, the Silver Award for Best USDA Organic Product 2012 from SOFI, USA, and the Certificate of Excellence for Farmers, Consumers, and the Environment 2011 from Cornell University, USA. Her efforts were further recognized with the Presidential Award for Best Organic Farmer 2011 and the Presidential Award for Best Farmer for Food Security 2010.
Embracing her position as a trailblazer, Emily's influence extends beyond agriculture. She has been honored as one of the Top 40 under 40 in Prestige Magazine, Indonesia 2016, and she was acknowledged among the Top 10 Most Powerful Women in 2011. Emily Sutanto's remarkable journey stands as a testament to the transformative power of dedication, fostering positive change, and driving meaningful impact.