Tobacco is a promising cash crop. In the form of cigarette tax, tobacco contributes more than 150 trillion Indonesian rupiahs yearly to the national income.
However, the welfare of tobacco farmers, who produce raw tobacco materials, does not match their contribution to the state’s revenue from taxes.
Tobacco farmers’ conditions are far from prosperous in Temanggung Regency, known as Tobacco City. They continue to grow tobacco despite the presence of alternative crops.
Among the local community, there is a myth that tobacco can bring prosperity to farmers, which is why it’s called “green gold.” Tobacco is often associated with spiritual practices, such as seeking blessings in the planting and processing of tobacco.
From this social phenomenon, a Student Creativity Program (PKM) team specializing in Social Sciences and Humanities Research from UGM conducted research titled “Between Poverty and the Myths of Seeking Blessings: Contradictions in the Perception of the Welfare of Temanggung Tobacco Farmers.”
The team comprises Abdila (History 2020), Wahyu Lestariningsih (Cultural Anthropology 2020), Devina Savana Putri (Economics 2021), and Ana Fitro Tunnisa (Social Development and Welfare 2022), with Dr. Hempri Suyatna acting as their mentor.
The team conducted observations and in-depth interviews in Tlogomulyo District, Temanggung Regency, Central Java, in July and September to gather data.
The team also researched historical and social welfare data from Statistics Indonesia and the Temanggung Social Affairs Office and reviewed secondary literature.
“By combining ethnographic and historical approaches, we found that the grip of middlemen and the involvement of the Chinese community in this area are essential parts of the formation of tobacco myths,” said Abdila on Wednesday (October 11).
The team also found that farmers have formed perceptions opposite the tobacco economy’s reality.
Several unfavorable conditions exist in the tobacco economy, such as unpredictable tobacco selling prices, strong dependence on extreme weather to produce good tobacco and avoid crop failure, and the discontinuation of fertilizer subsidies due to tobacco policy changes.
“In terms of capital, farmers are connected with middlemen, with an interest rate of 50%, known as the ngelimolasi system (borrow 10, repay 15),” Abdila explained.
Despite farmers’ economic hardships, they continue cultivating tobacco with the hope of abundant blessings at the beginning of each planting season.
They place their hopes for the livelihood and future of their children and grandchildren on tobacco and have a deep emotional and spiritual connection to it.
“Tobacco is seen as a blessing, demanding that farmers remain patient in all economic conditions and continue cultivating tobacco. Treating tobacco with special significance is part of the spiritual and emotional attachment to seek blessings,” said Wahyu Lestariningsih.
The team identified three dimensions of subjective well-being among Temanggung tobacco farmers in this behavior: harmony, social relationships, and environment.
The harmony dimension is achieved when, for example, farmers come together to participate in traditional ceremonies.
The social relationship dimension is marked by feelings of happiness when they can help each other during the harvest season and solidarity among fellow tobacco farmers during this season.
Subjective well-being in the environmental dimension includes the belief that well-being comes from the environment, such as fertile land, and that natural elements are considered living entities beyond humans, leading to ceremonies to honor the earth.
“Despite the various economic challenges, Temanggung tobacco farmers have other sources of well-being, namely subjective well-being that creates happiness and resistance to various challenges,” she concluded.
Author: Gusti Grehenson