My Food HeroesOct 27, 2012
Petty Elliott meets a woman on a mission to promote Indonesia’s agrarian heritage.
Helianti Hilman, an Ambassador for Organic Goodness
It might come as a surprise to many, but buying organic food has never been easier in Jakarta.
The choices range from sublime specialties such as locally grown strawberries to, well … rice. However, although the growth of the organic farming industry in Indonesia has been gaining momentum over the last decade, currently there is no formal organization to supervise standards and establish the provenance of local organic produce.
While there are requirements laid out under the Indonesian National Standards (SNI) for running an organic farm, some
70 percent of such farms in Indonesia lack the necessary certificates proving their products are actually organic, according to the director general of stan- dards and consumer protection at the Trade Ministry.
But one local company, Kampung Kearifan Indonesia, through its Javara signature brand, is leading the way with a high standard of local organic practice.
Established just five years ago, the company boasts food labeling certifica- tion from the Japanese Agricultural Stan- dard (JAS), the organic seal from the US Department of Agriculture, and the Organic Farmers & Growers Non-EU Agriculture Standard, for ingredients sourced outside the EU.
For Helianti Hilman, the founder and chief executive of Javara, this recognition is a practical step toward widening the appeal of her produce. But the philosophy of organic practice adopted by the Indo- nesian farmers collaborating with Javara runs much deeper than that.
For her, it’s not a question of chemicals and genetics; instead, it is the creation of harmony between man and nature, an honored tradition in Indonesian farming.
“Farmers taught me to respect nature and the value of positive energy. They see farming as a spiritual act,” Helianti says. “Our goal is to improve the livelihood of local farmers, preserving national foods and culinary biodiversity, while providing consumers with more and better options in healthy sustenance.
“We have been working to promote an entrepreneurial spirit among smallholder farmers and cooperatives, giving support through value-added technology, creat- ing value-added products,” she says. “We want to enable farmers and local food entrepreneurs to secure a fair price and sustainable market for their products.”
The Javara brand encompasses more than 700 products ranging from spices, sea salt, honey and cashews, to palm sugar, coconut oil and rice. The company works with 50,000 small farmers and food producers across Indonesia, each of whom has been put through a screening process supervised by Helianti herself.
“We maintain a strong relationship with farmers, local cooperatives and NGOs in many places. We practice ethical trade, to ensure fair terms for all. Javara is distinguished by the passion and heart that we and our partners put into every product. The biggest challenge is to retain the essence of local artisanal skills with- out compromising international standards in food safety and quality. Training and quality control are constantly needed,” Helianti says.
Among the range of Javara products, the various indigenous rice grains are the most outstanding. There are 10 varieties, polished or unpolished with names such as menthik susu, gebyok, cempoh merah, cempoh hitam and andel abang.
“The variety is great, but one of our toughest challenges is limited supply — as little as 30 kilograms for one crop — sim- ply because the farms are so small,” Helianti says.
An unlikely best seller among the Javara collection is the humble wheat and modified cassava flour noodle, created because of a surplus of vegetables. Helianti and her team had the idea to make these noodles using extracts of spinach and tomatoes. Other flavors such as purple yams and chili are also available.
The various types of Javara honey are all tasty — from mango to durian flavor. Naturally harvested by local farmers in remote rainforests, these delights are free from any heat processing.
Javara produce combine quality and natural taste. And a good indication of
this high quality is clear from the fact that Switzerland was the first country to import Javara produce. Not surprisingly, much of the brand’s produce is exported.
In recent years, Helianti has promoted Javara produce at international food exhibitions such as the BioFach organic food trade fair in Germany and the Salone del Gusto food exhibition in Turin, Italy.
“Occasionally we bring farmers with us on these trips so they can see for them- selves how much overseas customers appreciate their products,” she says.
Helianti is currently in London at an organic food trade exhibition. This year, she predicts, Javara will export 90 per- cent of its produce up from 80 percent in
2013, in response to growing demand, especially from Europe and the US.
Helianti plans to keep searching for new indigenous products and to expand her collaboration with farmers. She envi- sions having a network of around a mil- lion farmers and producers. She has every reason to think big, given the potential for new and unusual ingredients and her focus on preserving high quality.