Mr. Wiliyanto, fondly known to family and colleagues as ‘Yanto’, is a 41-year-old pepper farmer and collector. He was born and raised in Cluak Village, Simpang Katis, Central Bangka, where he still lives with his wife and two sons. Mr. Yanto learned about pepper at an early age and started cultivating the crop and his independent business 18-years ago. Through his many years of experience, Mr. Yanto noticed differences in cultivation practices between traditional practices of his ancestors versus the current practices he was introduced to via the trainings by Verstegen and PT CAN.

Based on the knowledge he received and in accordance with GAP standards, Mr. Yanto now determines plant spacing using a measuring tape, and while he previously never applied fertilizer, the trainings made him aware that fertilizer is essential to fulfilling the nutritional needs of his pepper plants. He uses subsidized phonska and urea fertilizers from the farmer group with a 1-liter dose of fertilizer per plant to increase the nutrient intake of his pepper plants. Furthermore, he also uses polybags to sow pepper seeds to ensure that their quality is guaranteed.

As a pepper entrepreneur, Mr. Yanto relies on pepper, both from his farm’s yield and the profit earned from buying/selling, for his livelihood. As a pepper collector, Mr. Yanto feels the direct impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on his business. He can no longer purchase peppers from the farmers as easily and freely as before, especially since the “Large-Scale Social Restrictions” (Pembatasan Sosial Berskala Besar/PSBB) came into effect as an effort by the government to limit the virus’s spread, and as a result, these restrictions caused a decrease in his income. Unsurprisingly, he hopes the pandemic will end soon and that he can resume running his business as usual, pre-COVID-19.

Climate change has also adversely affected the success rate and continuity of pepper cultivation. These days, the dry season lasts longer than before and it has resulted in Mr. Yanto’s pepper plants turning yellow. Like many other farmers, he also deals with pests and diseases. The most common pests and diseases attacking his pepper farm are flower-sucking insects and foot rot (root rot) disease. To deal with all of these issues, he waters his plants manually to ensure their survival, and sprays pesticides to attack the pests and dismantles and burns plants infected by diseases.

However, these efforts cannot entirely prevent pest and diseases and Mr. Yanto has thus sought advice from pepper experts he met through the trainings. Unlike before, he now attends online trainings through the Zoom application during the pandemic. According to Mr. Yanto, the presence of online applications to facilitate the process of communication and information exchange is both helpful and useful. He and his fellow farmers use a WhatsApp group to share the latest conditions of their farms and businesses, and to get pepper related advice and information from experts and fellow farmers.

An online application also serves as a tool to finding out the latest pepper prices. As a pepper collector, it’s important for Mr. Yanto to keep updated on the latest price developments to avoid errors when he makes a transaction. He then sells the purchased pepper to PT CAN or other collectors in Pangkalpinang. PT CAN sends price updates to Mr. Yanto via WhatsApp, while Pangkalpinang collectors send information via SMS. “I prefer to sell my peppers to PT CAN as the price is higher than others in the market, including the prices of other collectors in Pangkalpinang. The difference is about IDR 2,000-3,000 per kilogram. Plus, PT CAN also provides a pickup service that makes the transaction even easier, so I don’t even have to leave the house,” he says. Due to movement restrictions, Mr. Yanto was unable to earn income for one month as he couldn’t sell peppers to collectors in Pangkalpinang.

Mr. Yanto strongly believes in the training activities and programs offered by Verstegen and PT CAN, and he says “I would not use an application or tool that don’t come either from Verstegen or PT CAN as I trust these two companies, and with them, I will gladly use SpiceUp to manage my pepper farming and pepper business.”

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