Seminar für ländliche Entwicklung

An unusual civil society: How co-research farmers and agroecopreneurs contribute to the transformation of food systems

Lessons learned from an international hybrid seminar on 24 May 2022 held at Universitas Padjadjaran (UNPAD), Bandung, Indonesia

With its 275 million inhabitants, 17,000 islands and 90,000 km of coastline Indonesia is facing major challenges when it comes to its food systems. The impacts of the climate crisis (sea level rise, heavy rainfall and extreme events of droughts and floods) affect agricultural lands and its productivity, and the fast growing population with a large part remains food insecure.

Since 2016, SLE collaborates with farmer organisations and universities to to build climate-resilient agriculture through innovative solutions. On 24 May 2022 SLE organized an international seminar with JAMTANI (Jaringan Masyarakat Tani Indonesia), MPM (Motivator Community Development Foundation in Toraja), UNPAD and UNHAS (Universitas Hasanuddin) to exchange on “Research farmers and agroecopreneurs: Pathways to adapt to and mitigate climate change”. The seminar was organised in a hybrid format with about 80 participants present at the meeting hall of the Faculty of Agriculture and 120 participants taking part online via ZOOM.

The international seminar addressed the potentials and challenges of agroecopreneurship, a movement, which is still new and volatile, given the powerful agri-food-business actors and their lobby against alternative solutions. The seminar was a roundup of previous activities conducted in the framework of the partnership with SLE, and aimed at connecting the Indonesian co-research and agroecopreneurship spirit with the international community.

Session I: Agroecological co-research in Indonesia
Mr. Kustiwa Adinata, Executive Director of JAMTANI (Jaringan Masyarakat Tani Indonesia), highlighted the collaborative efforts of Indonesian research farmers, agroecopreneurs, scientists, and other value chain actors to mobilise for the transformation of the Indonesian food systems. His presentation was also illustrated by a video on the impacts of agroecological research. A student tandem from UNPAD and UNHAS summarized key lessons they have learnt from the participating co-research farmers at the exhibition, which took place at the same day at the university campus:

  1. Farmers have a lot of knowledge about local materials and how to combine them to produce biopesticides.
  2. Scientists develop innovations WITH farmers, not FOR farmers.
  3. Knowledge of farmers and scientists are both important.
  4. Research farmers expect simple and practical solutions from the scientists.

Farmers need to better understand their soil. Soil analysis results are to be shared with farmers to optimize their land use and their productivity.
The UNPAD Rector Prof. Dr. Rina Indiastuti officially opened the seminar and Ms. Iris Bauermeister from Bread for the World, the funding agency of this seminar and the co-research in Indonesia, summarized good practices from the climate-resilient agriculture investigation and innovation projects run by partners from the Global South.

Session II: Key notes

Nick Jacobs, Director of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food), presented a keynote on “A Long Food Movement: Transforming food systems by 2045”. The strategy for the long food movement with an unusual civil society involves four interconnected pathways of transformation: 1. Rooting food systems in diversity, agroecology & human rights; 2. Transforming governance; 3. Shifting financial flows; and 4. Rethinking modalities of civil society collaboration.

During the Q&A session, participants acknowledged the excellent presentation and were stimulated to read the full IPES-Food report. In the final slide, many concrete action points inspired the audience on how a civil society-as-unusual may challenge existing food systems and contribute to their transforming.

Figure 1 Strategies for the transformation of food systems

The Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) certification of organically produced food was presented as a good practice of a tangible instrument for transforming food systems. Maria Rowena A. Buena, Regional Coordinator for MASIPAG Luzon, Philippines, and member of the PGS Committee of IFOAM talked about the “Market potential of organic food products by PGS” by showing a global perspective. The certification of organic products is a burning issue for many farmers, particularly in the Global South, as it is a low entry barrier to organic markets compared to other certification standards. Countless questions poured into the chat and via and the time was really too short to answer all the interesting questions. Some questions were even asked repeatedly, such as:

Who decides which inputs or practices are allowed within the PGS?

Which countries have officially acknowledged PGS as a certification standard?

How are these policy decisions made?

Session III: Panel with agroecopreneurs
The next session was organized as a panel discussion and gathered Ms. Sylvia Kuria from Sylvia’s Basket in Kenya, Mr. Frank de Koning from the BIO kwekerij farm in the Netherlands and Mr. Bapak Untung from Tani Organik Merapi (TOM) in Yogyakarta from Indonesia. The three agroecopreneurs were introduced by a short agroecopreneur video made by SLE, JAMTANI, MPM, and the agroecopreneurs. The video explains how they deal with the value chain from farm to own shops and markets. They explain how they manage soil and plant health, and how to adapt to and to mitigate climate change. During the lively panel discussion, the audience raised many questions. The discussion revolved around the following main topics:
How to build up innovative marketing strategies through social media platforms, online shops, trustful supermarkets, and specialised organic shops
How to reach financial break-even points through cooperation with other farmers in the region, by setting affordable prices for organic products for vulnerable groups (such as mothers and children), cooperating with reliable logistics partners, or selling in bigger quantities.

The huge potential of organic products, as markets for organic vegetables are not saturated in none of the countries. Sylvia and Untung explained their approaches to develop market channels through PGS. The agroecoprenuership challenges in the three countries differ from each other: a missing retail market in Kenya, the shortage of labor and price pressure from supermarkets in the Netherlands, and production challenges through pests and diseases in Indonesia.

All three agroecopreneurs spare no effort to mitigate climate change via sustainable soil fertility strategies, water-saving practices, and CO2 recapture. An overarching problem for all of them, however, is the challenge to adapt to climate change.

Wrap up and conclusion

Mr. Tandu Ramba, manager of MPM concluded the TOP TEN lessons of the seminar and encouraged all participants to work on the transformation of food systems by building unusual networks to avoid that the impacts of the climate crisis are getting worse. 

1. The Climate crisis is real. It affects many sectors, today we particularly discussed how smallholder farmers need to break out their routine work in order to adapt to climate change.

2. Co-research is a powerful approach to increase adaptive capacities. Research farmers are farmers that

a. Design new things (= they INNOVATE);
b. Do the new things (= ACTION); and
c. Benefit from the new things (= IMPACT). The impact should be not only on farm but also off farm in the fields of marketing and business, which we call no-regret adaptation through agroecopreneurship.

3. Farmers who engage in the climate adaptation and agroecology co-research process gain agency, contribute to innovations that can be widely shared, gain independence and increase their adaptive capacity.

4. In order to take part in this innovation cycle farmers should not work alone. They need to cooperate with other stakeholders, from government, academia, media, civil society and business. (PENTA HELIX)

5. The civil society “as-unusual” is a stony but also powerful pathway to transform our food systems. Sustainable food systems can only be built with civil society in the driving seat, but the civil society movements are vulnerable and can’t win unless fundamental changes are made in governance and trade in order to reduce the new corporate threats of big agribusiness players.

6. PGS is a strong and low entry barrier tool for high value markets where farmers get better prices. Yet, not all governments are convinced about acknowledging and legitimizing this system.

7. It is necessary to build trust with local customers to build up stable marketing channels with civil society groups, institutions and consumers.

8. Transforming from a farmer to an agroecopreneur means that new functions are integrated on the farm. 

a. While farmers work on their fields, they consume a part and sell crops and animal products. Their mainstay is farming.

b. Agripreneurs farm themselves, but also sell farm products, from their own or from other farmers in the region. We call them agribusinesses if they do not farm themselves.

c. Agroecopreneurs take care of more, it is not a mere business-as-usual. They farm in a climate and environmentally friendly way while simultaneously building trust relationships with the consumers with the aim at selling healthy food.

9. Agroecopreneurs focus on regional networks, in this way also promoting circular economies. If they grow successfully, as we learned from Frank de Koning, they can sell their packed products to trade partners to a wider customer network, and if certified as organic, even to neighbouring countries.

10. Let’s work on this transformation of food systems in order to avoid that the impact of the climate crisis is getting worse. Let’s build new networks and not continue to consume as-usual, to make business-as-usual, but to create unusual networks for fair and climate-friendly food systems.

This is the order of today’s seminar.

Thank you and terima kasih
© Silke Stöber, SLE. Email Silke for more information


On 24 May 2022 SLE organised an international seminar with JAMTANI, MPM, UNPAD and UNHAS to exchange on “Research farmers and agroecopreneurs: Pathways to adapt to and mitigate climate change”. The seminar was organised in a hybrid format with about 80 participants at the meeting hall of the Faculty of Agriculture and 120 participants online via ZOOM.
Video JAMTANI Agroecological research

Powerpoint presentation of Nick Jacobs

Full presentation of Nick Jacobs, IPES-Food

Power Point presentation of Maria Rowena A. Buena, MASIPAG Luzon, Philippines

Full presentation of Maria Rowena A. Buena, MASIPAG Luzon, Philippines

In the panel discussion, the three agro-ecopreneurs explained their motivation to start with organic farming and why it is crucial to build direct marketing and close consumer-producer links.
“Co-research is a powerful approach to increase adaptive capacities. Research farmers are farmers that 1. design new things (= they INNOVATE); 2. do the new things (= ACTION); and 3. finally benefit from the new things (= IMPACT). The impact should be not only on farm but also off farm in the fields of marketing and business, which we call no-regret adaptation through agroecopreneurship.“
Tandu Ramba, MPM