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Meet the SRP Squad: How a new generation of rice farmers are pioneering sustainability in Indonesia

By Benjamin Holst

Young rice farmers in Central Java are challenging traditional cultivation methods to make the World’s most popular grain sustainable.

In a rice field in Klaten, Central Java, a group of youths are harvesting their rice crop. Most are dressed in matching orange t-shirts with the text  “SRP Squad” on their back. Several have replaced the traditional Caping-hat with baseball caps and sunglasses, making some of the young men resemble Gangsta rappers rather than what they really are: A new generation of pioneering rice farmers, who are currently challenging traditional rice cultivation with more sustainable techniques developed by the Sustainable Rice Platform (SRP).

“We are harvesting three demo plots with three different varieties of rice. In this way, we can compare which variety is giving the best results. The demo plots will show us the impacts on irrigation, pesticide use and other sustainable indicators,” 

Rustam Aji, coordinator for the Tani Pangan Lestari cooperative and informal leader of the SRP Squad 

Established in 2011 as a multi-stakeholder platform, SRP aims to improve the lives of smallholders and reduce the social, environmental and climate footprint of rice production. The three SRP plots in Klaten stick out clearly from the conventional paddy fields surrounding them; instead of straight and narrow rows, the SRP rice seedlings have been planted with alternating space between every second row.

Revitalising the soil

As the 10-15 young members of the SRP Squad assemble for lunch on the bank along one of the irrigation canals, jokes are exchanged and selfies taken - only seconds later to be shared on TikTok and Instagram.  

“The land here is heavily impacted by the use of chemical fertilisers, and year by year we have seen its fertility decrease. The SRP standard enables us to gradually reduce the residue in the soil caused by chemical fertilisers over decades and regenerate the quality,” said Rustam Aji.

Using less water

Rice is not only the World’s most popular staple food - it is also a heavy polluter. 

Conventional rice production consumes 30-40 percent of the world’s irrigation fresh water and accounts for up to 10 percent of global methane emissions - as much as the entire global aviation industry.  

“Rice doesn’t actually need that much water and by alternating wetting and drying, we can reduce the water use significantly. By working with these new methods, our farming collective is setting an example for other conventional farmers. We are pioneers,” said Joko Purwanto, a village leader.


Key impacts

  1. Up to 50% reduction of water use
  2. Reduced use of chemical fertiliser
  3. Better quality rice
  4. Decreased cost of production
  5. Improved soil quality
  6. Improved local environment
  7. Improved quality of life

Generation of change

During harvest season (3-4 times a year), the burning of millions of tonnes of leftover rice straw sends black plumes of smoke into the air. The burning of rice straw not only releases CO2; it is also causing heavy pollution of the air locally, potentially leading to respiratory and related illnesses in local populations.

In Klaten, there is no smoke rising from burning straw fires. Instead the straw is stacked high on carts and mopeds, and carried home to be used as animal feed.  

“Older generations do not change their ways easily. This is why we reach out to the younger generations of farmers, who are more likely to adopt sustainable methods of farming. While it is very difficult to get young people to work in farming, this is the generation that will change the methods,” said Nana Suhartana from Rikolto, a Belgian NGO building sustainable projects for cocoa and rice farming communities across Southeast Asia. 

Young messengers

As part of Rikolto’s SRP training programme, the farmers in Klaten have been divided into three teams. Each team has its own “street” handshake and a WhatsApp group. And all participants receive media training,

“Hopefully they will carry the message forward and inspire other farmers to adopt these methods,” 

Nana Suhartana - Rikolto


The SRP sustainable standards are already creating impact within the community in Klaten. Farmers who may initially have been sceptical, are beginning to show an interest - especially when they learn that sustainable methods can actually bring down the cost of expensive fertilisers.

Climate impact  

Rikolto is currently working with around 1.000 farmers in Indonesia, where 90% of all rice is grown by smallholders like Rustam Aji and his young squad. Several farmers say the yield has been dropping steadily year by year, as weather conditions have changed and become more unpredictable.

“They are noticing the climate changes, but they may not fully understand why these changes are happening. So, climate change is part of our training programme. Hopefully our programme will enable these young farmers to create a better and more sustainable life,” said Nana Suhartana.

The lunch break is over and members of the SRP Squad form a circle around Rustam Aji, who is balancing a sack of newly harvested rice on an electronic scale. When the red digits show, Rustam Aji’s face breaks into a wide smile: The weight is above average. And with the lower fertiliser cost and a higher market premium, this is a win. 


  • Rice is the daily staple for more than 3.5 billion people, accounting for 19% of dietary energy globally.
  • Rice provides livelihoods for over 1 billion people.
  • Rice is produced on 160 million hectares, primarily by 144 million smallholders.
  • Rice uses 30-40% of the world’s irrigation water for production.
  • Rice is responsible for up to 10% of global methane emissions - as much as the entire aviation industry.
  • Rice fields represent 15% of the world’s wetlands.

Source: Sustainable Rice Platform

Where is Klaten?  

Are you a business and did this story inspire you? Learn more about SRP and how our team can help you here.


Knee deep in climate change 

Nanik Endaryati, 53, is pulling a rake through a paddy field in Boyolali, Central Java. As she is working her way through the knee deep mud, the rake creates a chequered pattern, which her co-workers will later use to plant long, straight rows of rice seedlings.  

Rice is the staple diet for 3.5 billion people. For Nanik and millions of rice workers in major producer countries such as China, India and Indonesia, rice is also the primary source of income.

During harvest season, Nanik is paid less than 10 USD a day, which is not enough to feed her family. But by taking extra jobs, when not working in the paddy field, she has managed to put her two children through High School.

Southeast Asian rice farmers like Nanik Endaryati are among the world’s most vulnerable to climate change impacts such as rising sea levels, salinity, temperature rise, drought and flooding.

Nanik says that in recent years, rain has been getting heavier and the weather more uncertain, making it difficult to plant her crop. Ironically, the large volumes of water she is using to grow her rice, also contributes to the climate changes that are now impacting the yield. 

For more information, please contact:

Aadarsh Mohandas
Regional Director, South Asia
Rice Commodity Lead

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