A new project for Andy via Handi and a Singaraja farmer

I have said many times that having a much younger boss was a great thing for me, even if convention suggests the opposite is true. I felt it for two years in London with Jamie Reichman at Investec – his dreams and direction kept me going in corporate – and I’m feeling it again here in Bali.

This weekend I went to Singaraja, North Bali, with my Bahasa Indonesia teacher and local lad, Handi. After scootering our way through the seasonal rains and a night spent at his family home, we set out to meet Handi’s future customers – the farmers of Singaraja.

Handi - a man with ambition!

Handi – a man with ambition!

At this point I need to explain why I am so keen to work with Handi, who is 15 years my junior. In the last few years he has travelled to, and lived in, France and has multiple options available to him. The one he has chosen is to move back from South Bali where he lives (surrounded by tourism and easy cash opportunities), teaches and has a small construction project, to his home city of Singaraja.

As I said to him today, he is both clever and lucky to have worked this out so early, at age 25. Put another way, he has worked out what it means to be ambitious.

Soon Handi will be lecturing in the plush grounds of Singaraja’s University and he has plans to establish a business there with the overall aim of preserving the farming land in the region. Read, not to be sold to blatant tourism.

The thing that has the potential to bind us together is his ambition and leadership and my curiosity and latent resources, latent in the sense of I’m not sure at this point which ones (if any) will be useful. But, already my simple drawings of how it might work have got Handi thinking.

Rice field learnings today

Here’s what we learned today from speaking to a farmer on his land:
  • Farming for six months will yield 12m rupiah (I am not sure the exact land size)
  • This gets split 50:50 with the land owner
  • The farmer incurs 2m in costs
  • So his net income for six months is 4m
We asked him what else he thinks about:
  • He wants to buy a young cow, which will cost 7.5m
  • He can sell it for 10m
  • He can borrow the money from family at no interest
  • I’m not sure how long between buying and selling

My initial thought was micro finance but Handi said that is much harder because of the Koperasi structure. This is something I have been learning about, as it works in villages, but, being a dumb Bule, I did not think of it when I mentioned micro finance.

The farmer also talked about his dream to have his kids work in a hotel in Denpasar – which is easy to understand when you hear these numbers. Us Bule tend to think that working in hotels is bad because of the hours staff need to put it for ‘low’ pay. I count myself in the centre of that group of thinkers. However, as Handi points out, the minimum wage in South Bali (not Ubud) is 1.9m a month, so it’s clear why many Balinese see farming as ‘uncool’, when hotels pay three time more.

The farmer went on to say there was a block of land 40 Are for sale at 40m per Are – 1.6 billion in total. This is super cheap by Bali standards. Handi had the idea of a cafe for students (which Singaraja seems to be all about) and it got me thinking “what if there we could create a collective where farmers try different crops and sell to the cafe”. And instead of them selling the land, we lease the land so that they resist the current idea to sell the land so they can get their kids to Denpasar.

And on a bigger level again, imagine if we could create a hotel that people come to Bali for and staff are paid better than in South Bali?

Handi and I have a plan on what we will do next which involves trying to sell the (fairly) low hanging fruit as a product to other Bule in Bali. See if you can guess which one!

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