What is Circular Agriculture?
The Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands held a two-day national workshop on Circular Agriculture. Organized by PENTA Foundation, the activity was conducted online and attended by participants consisting of academics, agricultural practitioners, government, market actors, and NGOs from all over Indonesia and the Netherlands. Based on discussions with these various parties, a number of recommendations were obtained for the implementation of circular agriculture in Indonesia
Most people think that the circular agriculture concept is similar to organic farming, sustainable agriculture, integrated farming, and practice based on local wisdom. Circular Agriculture (CA) is an agricultural concept that combines ecological principles with modern technology, new partnerships and economic models, and credible social services.
In this concept, the flow of resources is turned into a closed loop so there will be no such thing as waste. The material cycle occurs in the closest space, starting at the farm level to other production units in the same area or its surroundings.
Circular agriculture is an ecological concept that is based on the principle of optimizing the use of all biomass. Circular agriculture is aimed at closing the loop of materials and substances, and reducing both resource use and discharges into the environment.
Circular economy – the economic counterpart of the ecological circularity concept – stands against the linear economic model of ‘take-produce consume- discard’ and entails three economic activities, to be referred to as the 3Rs: reuse, recycle and reduce existing (used) materials and products what was earlier considered as waste or surplus becomes a resource that is (re-) valorized.
CA is an important concept considering that the planet’s boundaries reach their limits, affecting continuous resource availability, declining biodiversity, worsening climate change, and polluting the environment. Thus, the challenge of the agricultural sector today is how to maintain or increase production in a sustainable manner with minimal use of resources.
In Indonesia, agricultural production is decreasing due to land-use change and the technology used is not in accordance with the conditions of existing agricultural land. The use of chemicals in large quantities and long term has made the soil harden and lose its fertility. Instead of focusing solely on increasing productivity through the use of excessive agricultural inputs, CA works with natural rhythms, minimizing the use of external agricultural inputs, reducing resource extraction and maximizing utilization of what is already available, and strengthening biodiversity.
Conceptually, this is not a new thing for most farmers in Indonesia, where the farmers have processed the waste in their agricultural area to be reused. Even it is not new in terms of using waste or organic material in agriculture, but the concept of circular agriculture also emphasizes the distribution of agricultural products by minimizing the carbon footprint.
However, inviting farmers to implement the concept of circular agriculture also has its own challenges. Several challenges were identified in the implementation of circular agriculture in Indonesia, especially considering that Indonesia is an archipelagic country, it is quite difficult to minimize the carbon footprint.
1. Human resources:
- Most of the farmers are elderly who are accustomed to traditional and hereditary agricultural concepts, so it is difficult to accept innovation
- Farmers are very dependent on the use of chemicals
- Usage of inappropriate doses of chemicals since farmers don’t read usage rules properly
- Farmers are reluctant to follow the mentoring program continuously and expect an instant program
- Government policies that provide easy access to chemical fertilizer distribution
- Indonesia’s geographical condition as an archipelagic country and lie in the ring of the fire area
- Uneven infrastructure, climate change, and water scarcity
- The need for food is increasing in each region, while the condition of the land in each area is different and only certain types of crops are planted. It takes quite a long time and technology to prepare land in certain areas so that it can be planted with the plants needed by the surrounding community to meet their nutritional needs
- The population is spread unequally, causing the distribution of food production to also be carried out outside the region
Circular Agriculture has the opportunity to be implemented in Indonesia, given that agri-food waste has yet to be utilized, financial source such as village funds is available, many young people encourage innovation, and good agriculture practices already exist and are waiting to be taken to the next level.
Some of the opportunities that can be taken for the implementation of circular agriculture are:
- Indonesia is an agricultural country, where 29.76% of the population works in the agricultural sector (BPS 2020)
- The land crisis in Indonesia must be addressed immediately.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has also increased public awareness to change lifestyles and increase body immunity by consuming healthy food.
- The scarcity of fertilizers that sometimes occurs in some areas due to access, natural disasters, or other things.
What can we do for Circular Agriculture?
- Transition towards circular agriculture can be started using existing practice. Small-scale experimentation can be conducted while figuring out the right business model that is adequate for further scale-up.
- Cooperation with various parties consisting of the government, private sector, civil society, and also educational institutions needs to be carried out in an integrated manner. All elements must collaborate to find a successful business model in the Indonesian context so that market access and fair prices are guaranteed, and positive social, as well as ecological impacts, can be achieved.
- Promotion, campaign, and socialization of the CA concept are still needed. For example, the integration of circular agriculture in the curriculum applied in educational institutions, which is always updated by the business sector and agricultural practitioners; as well as educating the market and consumer.
- Monitoring and setting up indicators for CA is needed so it can help the practitioners, business entities, and government to move toward circularity.
- Village Funds (Dana Desa) and its policy are available for agriculture development program that is in line with circular agriculture. Synchronization and cooperation are needed between actors to utilize this potential.
To answer the lack of market access, instead of producing agri-food goods per usual, it can be reversed by knowing what market is needed and then developing the business model based on that.