Planet Diversity World Congress on the Future of Food and Agriculture

Work of a Shaman

For many years Henny Yudea has been working with farmers in the villages. She believes that herbal plants are key to the health of poor people.

Henny Yudea believes that asking people to use herbal plants is not appropriate if she does not use them herself. For 15 years she studied herbal medicine, but the chance to use them herself came when she was pregnant with her first daughter last year. She often consumed shoe flower petals so that her delivery would be smooth.

The result? “I did not have any problems and there was very little bleeding,” she said. After the delivery she applied a plant poultice of traditional mixture: lime and betel leaves, cajuput oil, and lemon on the stomach. This helps the stomach muscles regain their old form after delivery. Katuk leaves were also consumed to increase mother’s milk; the best food for her baby.

Among the health and environment activists, she was very popular. Born in Kemuning Village Ngargodadi Karanganyar in Central Java on 9th November 1968 Henny became more famous after she joined the 1.000 Peace Women for Noble Prize 2005. She was one of the 23 Indonesian women in this contest. With her colleagues in LESSAN, Henny Yudea motivates farmers to make use of herbal plants to remain healthy. “So that they do not become dependent to expensive modern medicine,” said Henny to GATRA.

From its base in Dusun Palgading Sinduharjo Ngaglik Sleman Yogyakarta, Henny gives training to herbal medicine farmers. In her office or in her garage which has been converted to an exhibition space, there are many dried herbal plants and herbal mixtures ready for consumption. These mixtures have histamine and are cures for a range of diseases from stomach ache and dizziness to serious diseases such as diabetes, heart, and liver ailments.

According to Henny, the cost of medication these days is out of farmers' reach. To get medication, usually the farmers have to sell their belongings such as chicken, goat, or even take a loan. That is why it makes sense if the farmers make use of the plants from their surroundings to stay healthy and to heal themselves.

LESSAN gives training and education to the farmers so that they are able to plant herbal plants and make quality herbal medicines. This movement was started in 1990 when Henny and her four friends established LESSAN. It was started in Dusun Ngalakan, Donoharjo, Ngaglik, Sleman.

LESSAN started its work with an office and a staff quarters in the village Dusun Ngalakan. Dusun Ngalakan had 110 families and had a rich variety of herbal plants. In the beginning, the people did not accept what LESSAN did because it introduced alternative medicine. “We were seen as shamans”, said Henny, but the recipes could cure the diseases, and slowly the people started to welcome LESSAN.

Henny got the recipes for traditional medicines from the elderly in the villages. With her partners, she interviewed and documented herbal medicine in a book which was then distributed to the people. Even though she believed in herbal medicine, she did not discourage the villagers from going to puskesmas (sub district health post).

The doctor's consultation fee was 300 Rp., but the medicines were expensive. The helplessness of the farmer was even more when they were hospitalized. In this situation LESSAN did its job by making use of herbal plants such as pegagan, kerokot, asem, mindi tree, and alang-alang.

Training grown ups and children on how to plant and cultivate herbal plants also became part of the work of LESSAN. After 2 years in Dusun Ngalakan and the success, LESSAN started to work in Kinahrejo Merapi. The work here was the same as in Ngalakan. In 1994 the volcano Merapi erupted, and Henny and colleagues were involved in relocating the affected people.

In 1998, LESSAN expanded its work to Gunungkidul (in Yogyakarta) in Sidoharjo Village Tepus Sub district. Henny also introduced plantation of herbal plants and taught them the use and preparation of medicines. Since the people here were poor, she also started to work on the improvement of the economy and nutrition with special focus on children.

Empon-empon, a common plant in Gunungkidul became the main ingredients to make herbal medicine – besides kunir(curcuma) and jahe (ginger). In 2002, LESSAN established SEPEJAM (herbal medicine farmers union). This union made a network between the farmers in Kinahrejo Sleman and Tepus Gunungkidul as raw material suppliers and farmers in Kaliurang as organizers.

In SEPEJAM there were also 42 herbal medicine retailers. The whole network consisted of 526 members of which 80% were women. In the past two years, LESSAN also facilitated export of herbal plants to Austria. “Export capacity was not the target but introducing foreign countries trading with farmers fairly”, said Henny.

By involving farmers from 13 villages, LESSAN facilitated herbal plants export such as curcuma and ginger. These plants were organically cultivated and hence were sold for double the price of conventionally grown products. For example, the highest price for curcuma Rp. 600 per kilogram became Rp. 1250. That price does not include costs for packing and transportation.

LESSAN still works in the areas of health and environment. It has a network with other NGOs such as Forum LSM Yogyakarta, Aliansi Kesehatan, and Wahana Lingkungan Hidup. The donors Terre des Hommes and Eine Welt Laden in Germany support LESSAN's work. LESSAN plays and important role in biological diversity conservation in ASEAN.

Through handling issues such as independence, poverty, and poverty eradication by making use of local wisdoms, LESSAN played the role of a peace maker in the area. This was reflected in the judgment of Womens Peace Nobel Award. The network of women herbal farmers continues to grow in Yogyakarta, Central Java and East Java.

- Sigit Indra, Yogyakarta, which appeared in GATRA Magazine in April 2007

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Comité Local d'Organisation