BUMDEST: Providing Your Better Pesticide

Back in December 2017, Jonathan was staying for a two-month community service in Sidomulyo, a village under the administration of Batu, a famous tourist city in East Java, Indonesia. Despite its status, Sidomulyo did not fit the description of typical third-world village. They had wide roads, the streets were clean, and also, numerous, well-maintained attraction parks. In fact, one could find hotels and villas, many of which were styled to the taste of affluent population of Surabaya, a metropolitan within two-hour drive range.

Although tourism drove a significant part of the economy, most villagers grew flowers for a living. With such relatively developed economy, it was not surprising to see that the farms were beautifully arranged and well-maintained, with colorful chrysanthemums and roses here and there. Everything seemed great until Jonathan saw local farmers were used to do unthinkable things in their farms, one of which was burning empty pesticide bottles, along with other municipal waste.

At first, he thought it was accidental and directly covered his mouth and nose with his right hand, but then they flipped the bottles to complete the burning. Out of curiosity, he asked a farmer nearby, whether it was a custom in the whole village. The farmer nodded. Later in that week, he was less surprised to find two farmers were hanging out in the sun while smoking cigarettes on one hand, and diluting pesticides with the other.

As an emerging economy, Indonesia has a lot of problems, many of which seems urgent enough that lack of safety awareness is easily overlooked. For a foreigner just arriving in the country, this problem is observable on so many occasions. From the first time landing at Soekarno-Hatta, its main airport, one could witness the chaotic Jakarta traffic, where cars move around like motorcycles in developed economy and motorcycles like no other. In the streets, it is also not uncommon to find motorcycle riders going at 50 mph while not wearing a helmet. When visiting local middle-class houses, fire alarm is hardly ever found although the people use portable liquefied gas tank to cook daily.

As an agricultural economy, the number of farmers, although decreasing, is still quite high, yet sparsely distributed in remote areas, even separated by seas, considering its archipelagic nature. This makes local government initiative to promote occupational safety, even if there is one, would be ineffective. In the case of farmers in Sidomulyo, local government’s department of agriculture actually had had many socialization on this matter, yet farmers’ adoption was proven uncertain.

BUMDest, consisting of Albertus, Jonathan, Natali, and Yohanes, were privileged to access a world-class education at Department of Chemical Engineering, Universitas Gadjah Mada. The undergraduate program, accredited by Institution of Chemical Engineers in UK, included significant portion of occupational safety in its curricula. We are passionate to translate our knowledge in chemical process and safety for our community, specifically farmers. Our initiative was supported by long-standing tradition of our university to prioritize applied over theoretical research, aiming to empower underprivileged communities.

Mentored by Dr. Wiratni, who was recently featured in Business Insider as one of ‘The Most Powerful Female Engineers of 2018’, BUMDest developed an organic pesticide to tackle the forementioned safety issues. We acknowledge that changing farmers’ habits and tradition is still a long way to go, therefore we aim to first find a substitute for the toxic chemicals they handle. Our product, CountrySide is mainly composed of clove leaf oil and lemongrass oil. Per our market survey, the most wanted feature in a pesticide is rainfastness, or the ability to withstand being washed away by rain. This feature is more urgent in areas with high precipitation like Indonesia.

We named our pesticide, CountrySide, to revive the imagery of old-fashioned farming, the good old days when the land was green and toxic chemicalswere nowhere to be found. After a prototype had been made, we had it tested for viscosity and effectivity. Two commercial pesticides, one for organic and one for synthetic, were used as benchmark. Laboratory test result showed that CountrySide was twice as viscous as the other two. We conducted the effectivity test independently, against Tenebrio molitor, a common pest in Indonesia, and showed that qualitatively, there was no significant difference between the performances of CountrySide against of the synthetic benchmark. The viscosity test was to prove that CountrySide would be more rain-resistant and the effectivity was an attempt to debunk the common myth that organic pesticide could never beat its synthetic counterpart.

Thanks to Greenpreneurs, we dared to approach our target customers to test whether our products would suit the market. According to local farmers, if farmers in an area consisting of farms with same crops were to use different pesticides, the discrepancy of effectivity between each pesticide would make pests more likely to congregate in a farm whose pesticide is the least deadly. Therefore, we need more detailed tests for CountrySide against multiple types of pests to conclude its feasibility for widespread commercial use. We have our fingers crossed to snatch this opportunity to create a positive impact in our beloved homeland through Greepreneurs. Wish us luck!