Standing in her rice field in the rural village of Kemadang along the southern coast of Java, 53-year-old Marni Mariani pointed to the dry soil at her feet. “This is the land that we will harvest in three weeks,” she said. Yet due to the lack of rain this season, two of her four rice fields have already failed.

She noted that she doesn’t sell the rice harvest from her plot, which measures 32 by 49 feet, but rather that the food is for her family to eat. “But sometimes if there is a famine and the harvest is small, we are forced to buy [rice] from outsiders,” she said. “That’s what burdens us here.”

Yet since 2020, Marni hasn’t needed to worry about buying rice at a high price. Her 70-year-old neighbor, Mbah Gepeng Harjo, also no longer struggles to buy the expensive seeds and fertilizer he needs to cultivate the rice fields that he tends to. (Mbah means “old man.”)

That’s because of an innovative church-run granary program created by local pastor Kristiono Riyadi of Kemadang Javanese Christian Church that seeks to maintain community food reserves, especially during times of drought. It provides a grain savings and loan program and a produce buyback program. It also sells seeds at an affordable price.

The granaries are a local solution to tackling food insecurity in Indonesia, a widespread problem facing nearly 1 out of every 10 Indonesians and that is only increasing as the climate becomes more unpredictable. The poverty rate in the regency of Gunungkidul, where Kemadeng is located, is about 16 percent, with about 6,000 families living in extreme poverty.

The church also sees their work as an outreach to share the love of God to the community by helping with some of their most basic needs.

“From the testimonies of members of the food granary who are of other faiths, they feel that the church provides care for all, not only thinking about themselves but also about others,” Kristiono said.

A source of relief for a dry land

Gunungkidul Regency has a tropical climate, with a topography dominated by karst hills, an area of irregularly eroded limestone with natural caves and underground rivers. The rainy season is short, lasting only during November. The residents grow mainly rice, corn, and beans.

Difficulties related to crop failures, limited water sources, and a long dry season caused by climate change have often left farmers in the area in need of outside assistance.

As the situation became direr in Kemadeng and other villages in Gunungkidul’s Yogyakarta Province, Kristiono held an agriculture workshop in early 2020 to help his congregants, most of whom are farmers. One of their top concerns was finding inexpensive and high-quality rice seeds.

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“I suggested the idea to help the villagers by establishing this food granary,” Kristiono said. “The farmers want their rice harvest to be stored, and they want to easily get seeds at affordable prices. This granary not only fulfills their food needs throughout the year but also helps them during the long dry season.”

Kristiono explained that members of the program are required to store at least 10 kilograms (22 lbs.) of unhulled rice in the granary each year and can store up to 40 kilograms (88 lbs.). They can then borrow rice from the granary for daily consumption, special celebrations, or emergency situations. If they borrow the rice for celebrations, they need to pay it back with interest.

Beyond providing storage, the program has also become a way to economically support the farming community. During harvest season, the price of grain is low, but the price rises during off seasons, usually from July to October. So the church has decided to buy the farmers’ harvests, including rice, beans, and soybeans, at an above-market price. The grains are stored and then available on loan to members or for purchase for the community during the dry season. Members can buy it at a discounted price.

Unduh-unduh, or harvest day, is held as an expression of gratitude to God for the harvest every year,” he said. The granary program “is economic development not only for the congregation but also for the surrounding community.”

A community-led program

Today there are three granaries, with two in the nearby villages of Planjan and Banjarejo, and together they serve 90 farmers, including some who are not Christians. On a February morning, two farmers stopped by the warehouse to buy rice seeds, while others came with rice to store.

The initial capital for the food granary came from the Presbyterian synod of which Kemadang Javanese Christian Church is a member. The goal was to provide food security for the community, not just the congregation.

The synod’s general secretary, Anugerah Kristian, said the synod gave 30 million Indonesian rupiah (about $2,000 USD) to underwrite the food granary in Kemadang as an economic stimulus. “We are providing the capital only as an incentive” to initiate the project, Anugerah stated. “The granary must involve its citizens or members.”

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The granaries are financially viable, although the profits are very small, Kristiono said. Because the farmers return the crops to the warehouse, sometimes at an interest, Kristiono can sell the extra grain and use the small profit to buy other crops. The challenge, however, is if the harvest fails and farmers ask for an extension on the deadlines to repay the granary.

Anugerah emphasized that community participation is what makes the granaries a success. “Members of the congregation, community, and village government thought about their condition and the difficulties they experienced,” he noted. “The idea for the granary emerged locally and was carried out according to their situation, with the synod’s support.”

Marni, who has been a granary member since it opened and is also a member of Kemadang Church, said it has provided crucial economic assistance. “Water is difficult to obtain here, and sometimes the harvest is small, so we have to be economical in using the harvested rice,” she said. “If we lack seeds, then we have to buy from middlemen at a fairly high price. This is quite burdensome. But since the rice granary was established, we have been greatly helped.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the local government bought rice from the granary to distribute to the community.

Waldiyanto Harjo, a village official, expressed appreciation for the granary. “When this activity was launched, many villagers attended the event because the village head and other officials came,” he said. “It continues to function even though the village has not provided additional capital.”

Kristiono sees the granary as a way for the church to live out the gospel. “For me, this is a form of church care, as God’s Word says in Mark 12:31 to ‘love your neighbor as yourself,’” he said. “This is the real form of love. We are here realizing that with these granaries.”

[ This article is also available in Indonesian. ]