Indonesia's real-life Farmville

Rising food prices are galvanizing Jakarta's urban farming movement.

By , Correspondent

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    Gardeners water a freshly planted row in Jakarta.
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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Jakarta’s urban gardening scene got started with a simple tweet: “Who wants to start urban farming?” After that first Twitter message in November 2010, the group known as Jakarta Berkebun secured a plot in the city’s north and harvested a crop of morning glories (a common ingredient in many dishes here).

Jakarta lacks green space, but unused land abounds. Jakarta Berkebun aims to transform empty lots that often fill with rubbish into training grounds for urban youths to learn about growing food. For Milly Ratudian, an architect who leads the group, urban farming is a a response to skyrocketing food prices despite the nation’s abundant fertile crop land.

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In January, the price of chilies, a staple in most Indonesian dishes, jumped from $2.20 to around $22 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) – making them so expensive that the president called on citizens to start planting their own chilies.

Indonesia Berkebun leader Achmad Marendes says that, in addition to teaching people how to farm, the movement also aims to increase appreciation for the hard work involved in farming. “It’s a way of making urban people like me realize food comes from the ground, not shopping malls,” he says.

Shafiq Pontoh, a digital analyst who says he loves getting his hands dirty, says this is only the beginning of activism that may begin online but evolves into a tangible effect. “It’s like a reality version of Farmville,” he says, referring to the Facebook game where players manage a virtual farm online.

But unlike in the Berkebun garden, morning glories cannot be eaten in Farmville.

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