Building Kecipir: What does it take to launch an impact-driven start-up in Indonesia

Prior to becoming CEO of farm-to-fork venture Kecipir, Tantyo Bangun began his career in journalism, documenting agricultural NGOs in Brussels and serving as National Geographic Magazine Indonesia’s first editor-in-chief. Now, 11 years later, Tantyo is overhauling food production in Jakarta with a sustainable and local delivery system that connects organic farmers directly to customers to help tackle food waste and plastic pollution.

So, Tantyo, how did you go from leading the National Geographic team in Indonesia to founding your own sustainable start-up? 

Well, for National Geographic I was traveling all over Indonesia and met a lot of farmers in the villages and got to see the condition of their economy and especially their environment. Then a few years later my wife was posted to a position in Brussels and I moved with her. In Belgium, I became involved with some organic farmers there and assisted documenting and shooting their work, especially with NGOs. With the experience in Belgium and knowing the conditions of farmers in Indonesia, I started thinking of how to improve the circumstances of the local organic farmers in my country.

What exactly were the conditions of Indonesian farmers and why was it so problematic for you?

The nature of organic farming is to plant many different types of crops and then harvest weekly in small quantities depending on the type of produce. It’s different to large scale monoculture farming where just one or two types of crops are planted and then harvested at one time. These are the farmers who supply larger supermarkets through a middleman. The middleman is doing all trading in agriculture, they gather various crops in large quantities and bring it to the market. But with organic farmers, you need to connect them directly with their consumers who only require small quantities regularly, which suits the model of organic farming. This is different compared to Indonesia’s current distribution and market system, which only suits the middleman and monoculture farming model. That is why I wanted to make distribution or market access more available to organic farmers. That is the start of Kecipir. 

How does Kecipir help address the issues in the farming industry, especially when it comes to sustainability? 

For Kecipir, we set up a logistics system that is completely waste-free, completely circular. The value of organic farming is its sustainability and it being environmentally friendly. By going further up the supply chain, we are able to make it even more so by reducing plastic packaging and waste. We have been testing it for several months now and starting this month we will have it so all the materials or packaging used in the orders can be returned to us. 

Is Kecipir the first in Jakarta to undertake a farm-to-fork approach?

I know of a few similar start-ups in recent years, but I have heard recently that many of them have changed their approach to not dealing directly with the organic farmers. I understand that, working with traditional, small-scale farmers can be difficult as they often need additional socializing for new concepts such as rigid timeframes for harvest. But the advantage is that the farmers are the ones who directly benefit. If you go through an extensive supply chain with middlemen, the profit goes to the intermediaries, not the farmer. 

What are your thoughts on plastic pollution in Indonesia? Did you see a lot of plastic waste and pollution in the country when you were working with National Geographic and traveling around Indonesia? 

Yes, the situation is very concerning because even though the government of Jakarta announced last month that all single-use plastic is banned, in reality there is no enforcement of these rules, so it didn’t happen. Not enough incentive is given to either the people or companies that try to do a reuse system. For example, I attended an event where a government official said in a presentation that incentives will be given for dealing with plastic waste and when I asked how to claim those incentives and benefit from them, the official had no answer. The punishment is not there. The reward is not there yet. So, I am not very optimistic on this.

The thing is, though, we cannot only depend on policy or the government, I think the private sectors and then the community itself can do more.

What role do you think then the entrepreneur plays in solving the plastic crisis? Can you tell us a little bit more about what it was like to actually launch a sustainable start-up?

I think the role of the entrepreneur is quite important because an entrepreneur is able to explore possibilities. An entrepreneur can do it fast and efficient and the consequences if the start-up fail are minimal because it is still small. We need people who can see opportunities and then have the courage to try, regardless if it succeeds or fails. That’s the nature of the entrepreneur. They are independent but their success will also benefit hugely from the support of a community. 

Launching a start-up is very challenging but I think the purpose and the value that we aim for is more important and that can be the single most important motivation for us. If you think about the impact and the contribution that we can make to the farmers and the environment, I think that it makes those challenges less scary or hard.

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