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Upgrading Agricultural Systems: Opportunities and Challenges for Myanmar





Written by: Taylor Anderson, Jenna Hershberger, Sarah Jenson, Jake Ledoux, Jesse Puka-Beals, Ryan Sherman

Edited by: Eghosa Asemota and Nida Mahmud


With its limited arable land and high population density, Myanmar must prioritize a methodical response that addresses the intensification of food and land scarcity as well as redresses lagging foreign and domestic investment in agriculture. An analysis of the country’s current agricultural system– namely, its research infrastructure, seed technology, fertilizer use, irrigation strategies, and mechanization– illuminates the need for crucial agricultural upgrades and strengthened cooperative structures that empower smallholder farmers to actualize such upgrades effectively.

Land and Food Scarcity

Myanmar’s future challenges are embedded within the context of the Asian continent. Arable land is a uniquely valuable commodity in Asia. Highly suitable soil for cultivation comprises less than four percent of the land in Asia, far lower than Latin America at twelve percent, or Africa at fifteen percent.[1] The population density of the continent is also higher than any of the other five inhabited continents, creating inherent challenges for food and land scarcity that are particularly stark in Southeast Asia. It is estimated that Southeast Asian farmers will need to produce 1.4 percent more food per hectare every year until 2050 to meet local food demands. Relying on food importation increases the risk of famine and inadequate food availability due to poor infrastructure and large distances between markets. Within the region, Myanmar faces unique challenges supplying food for its population.[2]

Unique to Myanmar among countries in Southeast Asia is a recent history of severe economic isolation due to the government’s strong internal control of market institutions as well as economic sanctions imposed by the United States, Canada, and the European Union. The recent economic liberalization since 2011 has exposed Myanmar to markets in which it is far behind, and to a profusion of technologies which have been designed in context to other countries. Myanmar is therefore faced with the unique problem of attempting to adapt and upgrade all aspects of its agricultural systems at once, a situation that requires a careful and holistic strategy.

Cooperative Structures and Farmer Responsiveness

The structural weaknesses which abound within Southeast Asian agricultural systems such as Myanmar’s are due to lagging foreign and domestic investment. In the twenty-first century, government expenditures on agriculture have decreased from 10.3 percent of the total budget in 2000, to 6.3 percent in 2014[3]. Ba Hein, the Region Minister of Agriculture in Myanmar’s most productive agricultural district, the Ayeyarwady Delta, reported insufficient government funding and investment throughout the region in 2016.[4]

Despite the hardships of urban life, farm families demonstrate near uniform ambition to find alternative incomes to farming. Before the twenty-first century, the average farmer age was increasing and farm sizes were expanding– observations were confirmed upon visiting farm families in Myanmar in 2017.[5] Improving and expanding Myanmar’s agricultural sector requires education and research, the development of improved seed, fertilizer and irrigation infrastructure, and mechanization. However, as the second largest country in Southeast Asia– with climates and geography ranging from the mountains to deltas, deserts, alpine regions, subtropics, and tropics a single agricultural upgrade strategy will not be possible. Any effective approach that seeks to improve Myanmar as a whole must account for these enormous variations.

As crucial agricultural upgrades are discussed, there is a need for a unifying structure to facilitate all these on community levels to ensure responsiveness to farmers’ needs. Myanmar, therefore, requires development structures designed to meet farmers on regional levels, foster their direct involvement, and ensure localized solutions that target constraints unique to the systems they navigate. Strong farmer cooperatives are key to prioritizing the interests of farmers; responding to regional needs; acting as intermediaries among farmers, agencies, corporations, and investors; and enabling access to crucial services, inputs, markets, and producers.[6] This aggregating principle will extend the effectiveness and reach of all agricultural upgrades to facilitate universal benefit.

Upgrading Agricultural Technologies


Modern agricultural research in Myanmar focuses on increasing productivity while enhancing the sustainability of agricultural practices through resource management with an emphasis on making policy recommendations based on research results.[7] Consequently, much of Myanmar’s agricultural research centers on crop improvement trials and variety development. This limited research focus has led to limited research outputs and fewer developments to widespread agricultural management techniques like multi-cropping systems, which would increase the resilience of smallholder farmers more than continued development of a single crop.[8] Limited funding compounds these problems of limited research scope.. The lack of resources and outdated libraries at Yezin Agricultural University (YAU), an institution established in 1924 to train future agricultural scientists, make recent scientific literature inaccessible to research scientists.[9] The lack of direct communication between researchers and farmers also hampers research infrastructure. Extension agents act as messengers instead, communicating research results to farmers and farmer needs to researchers.[10] As part of extension efforts, Contact Farmers (CFs) are assigned to villages, are appointed as leaders, act as the primary contact for extension agents, are responsible for organizing field trials and experimental plots with extension agents, and are responsible for training other farmers in the village.[11] However, since extension agents often lack the project understanding or training needed to implement researchers’ recommendations, there is often low overall adoption of new recommendations.[12]

It is thus vital that the current government prioritize agricultural research and allocate more funding – at least $0.50 per $100.00 agricultural GDP – to federal agricultural research programs. Without this increase, the development of useful research will be severely impaired. When thinking about research for the future, a significant portion of agricultural research needs to be focused on crop productivity and food self-sufficiency. Crop diversification is also needed,[13] as the current funding climate and government prioritization of rice research means that rice is often studied at the expense of other staple crops.[14] The Myanmar government must expand research in the public agricultural sector so that it can focus on topics that are responsive to farmers’ needs. This will require reliable two-way information pathways between farmers and researchers, research institutions interested in rural livelihoods, and the incorporation of farmer advocates into policy conversations. Establishment of cooperatives could facilitate collaboration between researchers, extension agents, and farmers on a regional scale, and could allow local needs to guide research questions.[15]

Seed Production, Quality, and Availability

Understanding the importance of the agricultural economy, the Myanmar government has placed a significant emphasis on improving the agricultural infrastructure and enhancing access to clean, affordable, and high-yielding seed in order to improve agricultural productivity more rapidly. Notably, Myanmar’s parliament recently enacted a suite of laws intended to bolster private sector involvement in seed production through incentives and intellectual property protections. Such laws are a necessary first step for a country transitioning from a centrally planned agricultural system– in which seed and food production, marketing, and trade were coordinated by the central government– to one that encourages private-sector contributions. However, because of both a deficit in investment in the marketing and production of quality certified seed and an infrastructural system that excludes access to small-holder farmers in remote villages, the benefits of these contributions are not universally enjoyed.

Myanmar’s primary crops consist of upland and lowland rice, maize, beans, pulses, and oilseeds. Of these, only maize and some pulses are regularly grown from certified seed and Myanmar farmers usually reuse a portion of their own crop or source seed from neighboring farmers or villages. Smallholder farmers must be included in the evolving seed production system to ensure the proper distribution of economic gains across the agricultural economy as well as close the large gap between supply and projected demand for certified seed. To preserve the role of smallholder farmers in the production of seed, contract farming between these farmers and either Myanmar’s Department of Agriculture (DOA) or private agribusinesses would need to expand. Increased cooperation between the private sector and the DOA to generate registered seed, and increased cooperation between the private sector and small farmers to produce certified seed would benefit the system since the DOA does not have the funds to broadly and unilaterally increase its agreements with farmers. In such a scheme, private businesses would provide registered seed (and potentially farming inputs) to contracted smallholder farmers and would buy back the resulting certified seed which would be cleaned, graded, and packaged for sale the following year. The Myanmar government will need to augment this scheme with amended seed law that explicitly protects certified seed-producing smallholder farmers from abusive contracts, price fluctuations, and quality issues resulting from uncontrollable environmental conditions.

The Department of Agriculture (DOA) should work to boost demand for quality seed through pluralistic extension approaches and marketing campaigns advocating the benefits of certified adapted seed. The establishment of a pilot program linking existing informal seed villages with formal private breeding companies would assist with this. Also, since a current lack of coordination between entities hampers Myanmar’s seed-producing system, the country would benefit from the creation of an entity that leads and manages the transition to a privatized seed industry. The responsibility of this entity would be to encourage a public-private dialogue in the formation of a seed sector transition plan, to coordinate the entry of agribusinesses, NGOs, and international investors into priority challenge sectors. Lastly, since the success of seed research and development depends on pathways that connect farmers to seeds and information, farmer cooperatives will be tasked with coordinating seed demand in remote regions, and reducing inhibitive extension and transport costs for all stakeholders[16] as better seeds become available and Myanmar’s research and development capacities improve.


In order to reach its full agricultural potential, Myanmar must address issues of quality, market inefficiency, inaccessibility, and lack of education in its fertilizer sector.

Across all channels of fertilizer distribution in Myanmar, there is a severe lack of quality testing at the farmer level.[17]Combined with the large-scale quality issues throughout both domestic and imported fertilizer distribution channels, this poses a significant problem for farmers. The government of Myanmar must establish and outfit laboratories and a testing service to ensure the consistently high quality of products being developed and entering domestic markets. This will not be an insignificant task for a single lab to undertake, but will instead require country-wide coordination and cooperation.

As it stands now, the fertilizer industry in Myanmar is fraught with unclear policy, unnecessary middlemen, and inefficient transportation networks. In order to decrease fertilizer costs for farmers and therefore increase use and agricultural yields, the efficiency of the entire industry must be improved. This begins with increasing domestic production to meet demand. Redirecting a larger portion of the country’s natural gas resources to the two idle government urea factories has the potential to cut the supply deficit, but this must be paired with clear and fair policy implementation in order to increase access to domestic fertilizer for those who need it. Permit acquisition processes must be fair and stated in a straightforward manner. Package labels must be clearly marked with safety and use information for both domestic and imported products. Import registration requirements must be unambiguous and well-enforced. Within-country transportation networks, funded by the government, must also be improved. This will aid in decreasing transportation costs, the savings from which can be passed to the farmer.

Due to unfavorable price ratios since the 1990’s, nitrogen is severely limited in Myanmar’s soils resulting in fertilizer application rates that are far below ideal levels. Increased use of urea alone, however, will not be enough to solve Myanmar’s nitrogen problems. The fertilizer must be managed correctly to maximize nitrogen use efficiency and to minimize environmental impacts. This involves the development of a nutrient management plan with the correct timing and combination of fertilizers, weed control, cultivar selection, irrigation technique and timing, and plant density.[18] Cooperatives will need to provide farmers with access to fair credit. They can protect farmers from unscrupulous lenders and risk. Credit can be used effectively to purchase inputs such as fertilizer prior to harvest, allowing farmers to apply the fertilizer they need to maximize yields and pay back their loans after harvest with more net profit.


Current challenges in water and irrigation include the lack of a unified policy, overlap in formal duties among ten ministries, an overemphasis on rice system irrigation, and dangers related to overexploitation and environmental pollution.[19]

Irrigation projects that are currently being developed in Myanmar in collaboration with other countries and research programs require considerations about their social impact on the community.[20] There is, therefore, a need to prioritize local community empowerment. This will require reforms to water law policy within Myanmar to provide communities more authority in managing their water use and cognizance of environmental costs. Cooperatives have an important role to play in both coordinating management plans that account for local variability and being an advocate for rural people’s interests. For water management plans, however, coordinating interests among users is crucial. Water user associations are a common type of limited cooperative. Myanmar’s rural communities can benefit greatly if water user associations can be expanded to other areas or integrated into a larger cooperative framework. They will enable extension services to disseminate information about new irrigation techniques and technologies. They will facilitate research and development efforts on irrigation system improvements and address shared-resource risk, such as depletion and overexploitation that results when use is uncoordinated.

As Myanmar’s agricultural sector continues to develop, rapidly increasing water demands (up 156 percent since 1990) risk having serious environmental impacts if not effectively managed. Unfortunately, virtually no reports on the development of Myanmar’s agricultural sector seriously discuss the host of environmental consequences that occur from the mismanagement of natural resources. Research conducted at YAU focuses on improving yield and intensifying inputs. Such efforts must be matched with efforts to understand, monitor, and ensure the health of Myanmar’s ecosystems to ensure the longevity and productiveness of Myanmar’s agricultural sector.[21] [22] [23] The government must also establish reliable monitoring services of rivers to ensure the health of its fisheries which are a critical aspect of Myanmar’s economy.


Myanmar was once one of the biggest rice producers in the world, and today it is number six in the world for rice production, with eight million hectares of rice planted on over fifty percent of its arable land.[24] The rise in yield has suffered some stagnation in part due to lower fertilizer application. Even though annual consumption per person went down, rice consumption still increased by sixty percent because of rapid population growth.[25] As the population continues to grow, rice production must become more efficient in regard to time, harvest losses, and inputs. Unfortunately, the lack of capital investment has largely prevented farmers from producing higher yields as, without capital for the initial investments, fertilizers, and farm machinery purchases are both impossible.

To fortify mechanization and increase efficiency, farm equipment must be accessible to farmers. Microfinance lenders can help small shareholder farmers buy less expensive pieces of equipment, such as power tillers, which can have a huge impact on productivity. For larger machines, such as combine harvesters or tractors, group purchasing by local farmers can make a difference in production, improving livelihoods by targeting constraints that limit productivity and increase output past the subsistence level. To ensure the longevity of farm equipment and its proper use, mechanization training about how farmers should use and repair equipment must become more commonplace.

The most practical strategy for effective mechanization will be the creation of information pathways and opportunities that will enable farmer-led adaptation. Farmer cooperatives can facilitate these pathways and coordinate farmers’ needs and interests when learning, upgrading, or repairing farmer technologies. Cooperatives can also aid in mitigating financial obstacles by offering microloans as an effective alternative to private financial institutions and help in the collective purchasing of otherwise inaccessible equipment. The cooperative finance model includes multiple advantages for rural borrowers. First, loans from the cooperative to its members are collectively owned so that a collective social interest pressures members to use money responsibly. Second, transaction costs and profit interests are largely eliminated, making loans much more affordable. Third, as a local institution, cooperatives are not tempted to cut losses and leave, extracting as much value as possible from the system in the process. Finally, a well-developed cooperative will provide the network necessary for governmental and development agencies to offer microfinance services.


Each of these crucial areas (seed technology, fertilizer, research, mechanization, and irrigation) is interdependent and, therefore, must be developed together. Ramping up fertilizer to increase yields without accounting for changes in water needs, for example, is shortsighted. Efforts to deliver new seed technology to rural areas must be supported by effective extension if the new variety requires different management practices. Upgrades in mechanization also require the local capacity for farm equipment maintenance. Like many Southeast Asian countries, the story of Myanmar in the twentieth century was one of exploitation and oppression. Powerful domestic and international political and business entities have the potential to further exploit the Myanmar people, extracting and exporting value from land and labor through coercive arrangements. Governments and/or NGOs need to help strengthen farmer-led rural institutions such as cooperatives to coordinate development efforts; act as intermediaries between farmers, agencies, and business interests; advocate for the interests of rural people, and connect farmers to markets. An aggregated approach that employs the use of farmer cooperatives has the potential to enhance the effectiveness of each agricultural upgrade recommendation and support an overall more equitable, sustainable, and resilient agricultural system.

This case study was made possible through a review of current literature and a three-week field-study visit made possible through IARD 6020: International Agriculture in Developing Nations, a course offered at Cornell University.


  1. Bindu N. Lohani, “Environmental Challenges in Asia in the 21st Century” (Manila: Asian Development Bank, 1998). 
  2. Günther Fischer, Eva Hizsnyik, Sylvia Prieler and David Wiberg, “Scarcity and Abundance of Land Resources: Competing Uses and the Shrinking Land Resource Base,” SOLAW Background Thematic Report – TR02 (2016) 
  3. Ibid. 
  4. Myanmar Now, “As Labourers Leave Myanmar Delta, Farmers Struggle to Mechanise,” Myanmar Times (2016), The Myanmar Times, 
  5. Hector Malano, Martin Burton, and Ian Makin, “Benchmarking Performance in the Irrigation and Drainage Sector: A Tool for Change,” Irrigation and Drainage 53, no. 2 (2004): , doi:10.1002/ird.126. 
  6. FAO, “Agricultural Cooperatives – Key to Feeding the World,” 2012 World Food Day Celebration Report (2012)Food and Agricultural Organisation 
  7. Tin Hlaing, “Agricultural Research, Extension, and Rural Development in Myanmar,” (2004), Myanmar Academy of Agricultural, Forestry, Livestock, and Fishery Sciences 
  8. Ibid. 
  9. Personal communication, Lei Li; Hlaing et al., Agricultural Research 
  10. Personal communication, Khin Thet Maw 
  11. Hlaing et al., Agricultural Research 
  12. UNDP, “Myanmar Agricultural Sector Review and Investment Strategy Volume 2: Agriculture Sector Investment Strategy” (2004). 
  13. Personal observation; Hlaing et al., Agricultural Research 
  14. Than Tun, Adam Kennedy and Ulrike Nischan, “Promoting Agricultural Growth in Myanmar: A Review of Policies and an Assessment of Knowledge Gaps” (2015) 
  15. Virginia R. Cardenas, Evangeline Sulabo, Rowena Baconguis, Federico A. Cruz, Yolanda Mendoza, Elvira Talatayod, Francisca Tan, and Lorna Domingo, “Community-Based Participatory Extension Management andEmpowerment: Institutionalization and Scaling Up”, Good Practices: Institutional Development (2005) FAO 
  16. FAO, “Formulation and Operationalization Of A National Action Plan For Poverty Alleviation and Rural Development Through Agriculture (NAPA)”, Lower Mekong Food Security Database (2015) 
  17. Paul Roelofsen, Dr. Min Aung and Dr. Khin Hnin Yu, “Report on the Policy Analysis of the Myanmar Seed Law and Seed Policy”, Livelihoods and Food Security Trust Fund (2015) 
  18. Achim Doberman and Thomas Fairhurst, “Rice: Nutrient Disorders & Nutrient Management”, Nutrient Disorders and Nutrient Management (2000), Potash & Phosphate Institute (PPI), Potash & Phosphate Institute of Canada (PPIC) and International Rice Research Institute$file/TOC%20Rice%20HB.pdf 
  19. Than Tun et al., Knowledge Gaps 
  20. Hector Malano, Martin Burton, and Ian Makin, “Benchmarking Performance in the Irrigation and Drainage Sector: A Tool for Change,” Irrigation and Drainage 53, no. 2 (2004): , doi:10.1002/ird.126. 
  21. John P. Reganold, Lloyd F. Elliott, and Yvonne L. Unger, “Long-term Effects of Organic and Conventional Farming on Soil Erosion,” Nature 330, no. 6146 (1987): , doi:10.1038/330370a0. 
  22. Bram Moeskops et al., “Soil Microbial Communities and Activities under Intensive Organic and Conventional Vegetable Farming in West Java, Indonesia,” Applied Soil Ecology 45, no. 2 (2010): , doi:10.1016/j.apsoil.2010.03.005. 
  23. Fritz Oehl et al., “Impact of Long-term Conventional and Organic Farming on the Diversity of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi,” Oecologia 138, no. 4 (2004): , doi:10.1007/s00442-003-1458-2. 
  24. Ricepedia, Research Program on Rice (2013), IRRI; AfricaRice; CIAT 
  25. Ibid. 
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Keika Aku Melihatmu Mati




Oleh Mena Oktariyana

Tidak ada yang lebih menakutkan bagi Ali, selain melihat seseorang meregang nyawa di hadapannya. Malam itu, dia menyaksikan sendiri adiknya, Mono, tersiksa menghadapi sakaratul maut. Dilihatnya si Mono mengerang kesakitan dengan tubuh yang terus saja menggeliat di atas tempat tidurnya. Ali mendengar suara keluar dari kerongkongan adiknya, bagaikan orang yang sedang tercekik. Berulang kali dia membisikan ayat-ayat suci di telinganya sambil terus memegangi tubuhnya yang bergetar hebat itu. Dan, ketika getaran dan erangan itu berhenti, Mono sudah terbujur kaku dengan mulut dan mata yang terbuka lebar. Hawa di kamar itu seketika berubah menjadi begitu dingin menusuk. Malaikat maut seperti datang menghujani kamar itu dengan kegelapan dan kedinginan. Hujan dan petir di luar pun seperti bersekongkol untuk mengiringi kepergian adiknya. Ali menutup mata dan mulut Mono dengan tangannya yang gemetar. Dia ingin menangis, tapi tak bisa menangis. Ketakutan yang dia rasakan malam itu telah mengalahkan air matanya.

            Pintu rumah dibuka. Santi, istri Mono datang dengan kondisi basah kuyup sambil membawa kantong kresek yang berisi obat-obatan untuk suaminya.

            “Sial, sial, hujan lebat! basah semua bajuku ini. Tahu begini kan tadi aku bawa payung,” ucap Santi kesal.

            Dia menaruh obat-obatan itu di atas meja makan. Kemudian dia membuka pintu kamar dimana suaminya sedang terbaring, ditemani Ali yang sedang duduk di kursi samping tempat tidur. Karena dia tidak berani masuk ke dalam kamar dengan kondisinya yang basah kuyup, dia pun akhirnya menutup pintu kamar itu kembali dan berjalan menuju kamar mandi.

            “Ali, Al!” seru Santi dari balik kamar mandi. “Kamu kalo mau pulang, pulang saja ya. Aku sudah di rumah ini. Takutnya kamu kemalaman, nanti enggak dapat bus kamu.” lanjutnya sambil asik menggosok-gosok tubuhnya yang kotor dengan sabun. 

            “Makasih ya sudah mau nengokin si Mono. Aku tuh seneng, masih ada yang mau peduli sama saudara sendiri, tidak seperti saudara-saudaraku. Waktu aku kecelakan motor bulan kemarin, hemmm boro boro pada nengokin. Dikatain bego iya, gara-gara enggak becus bawa motor.”

            Beberapa saat kemudian, Santi keluar dari kamar mandi sambil mengusuk-ngusuk rambut basahnya menggunakan handuk. Lalu dia menuju kamar untuk mengambil sisir.

            “Loh, kok kamu masih disini? aku kira sudah pulang,” ucap Santi yang terkejut melihat Ali masih ada di kamar. “Ya sudah lah nanti aja kamu pulangnya, toh masih hujan juga di luar.” dia keluar kamar dan berjalan menuju dapur.

Dia membuka kulkas untuk melihat apa kira-kira yang bisa dia masak saat hujan deras begini. Tidak ada yang lebih enak selain makan sesuatu yang berkuah panas dan pedas saat hujan, pikirnya. Oleh karena itu dia mengambil sebungkus kwetiau kemasan, dua butir telur, sebungkus bakso, cabai, dan segala bumbu yang dia perlukan untuk memasak kwetiau kuah kesukaannya.

“Al, aku buatin kwetiau ya, kamu harus makan dulu sebelum pulang,” ucapnya sambil sibuk menyiapkan bumbu. “Oh iya Al, nanti tolong kamu bawa ya, pisang kepoknya. Pisang itu kesukaan istrimu. Di kebon belakang masih banyak, tadinya sih mau aku jual di pasar. Tapi, gimana ya, semenjak Mono sakit aku jadi susah buat ngapa-ngapain. Belum lagi kalau dia kambuh kejang-kejangnya. Repot lah pokoknya, aku tidak bisa tinggal dia lama-lama. Mau ngapain saja jadi susah.” ucapnya kesal.

Dua mangkuk kwetiau itu pun sudah siap untuk dihidangkan. Dengan perut keroncongan Santi membawanya ke meja makan.

“Al, makan dulu Al, sudah matang nih!” seru Santi kepada Ali yang masih berada di kamar.

Perutnya yang sudah lapar dari tadi, membuatnya langsung menyantap satu mangkuk besar kwetiau miliknya tanpa menunggu Ali. Dan sampai habis satu mangkuk kwetiau itu, Ali tidak juga datang ke meja makan.

“Ini orang kok dipanggilin nggak nyaut nyaut dari tadi, tidur apa gimana?” tanya Santi pada dirinya sendiri.

Lantas Santi membawakan satu mangkuk kwetiau untuk Ali itu ke dalam kamar. “Kamu aku panggil daritadi kok enggak jawab-jawab, nih dimakan,” katanya sambil memberikan semangkuk kwetiau kepada Ali. Namun Ali hanya terdiam sambil menangis.

“Lah, kenapa kamu nangis? tanya Santi bingung.

Dia melihat ke arah Mono yang dipikirnya sedang tertidur lelap. Dia hanya terdiam sambil melihat tubuh suaminya yang terbujur kaku dengan wajah pucat pasi. Tangannya gemetar, dia jatuh terduduk dan semangkuk kwetiau itu berserakan di lantai. Ali segera bangkit dari tempat duduknya dan berusaha menenangkan adik iparnya. Sadar suaminya telah mati, Santi menangis begitu hebat sambil berteriak memanggil-manggi suaminya.

Beberapa saat kemudian, tangisan itu berubah menjadi suara tawa yang menakutkan. Dilihatnya Santi sedang tertawa cekikikan sambil mengusap air matanya. Ali terkejut dan bingung. Dia tahu bahwa banyak orang menjadi gila karena ditinggal mati orang yang mereka cintai. Tapi, apa mungkin Santi bisa gila secepat ini, ucapnya dalam hati.

“Aku bebas! Aku bebas! sudah lama aku ingin dia mati!” teriak Santi sambil terus tertawa cekikikan.

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Keniscayaan Meruang(i)




Setyaningsih, Esais dan penulis Kitab Cerita (2019)

Kita meruangi ruang secara spasial dan esensial atau guna dan citra, seperti pernah dibentangkan rohaniawan, arsitek, dan penulis Y.B. Mangunwijaya dalam pengantar buku Pengantar Fisika Bangunan (2000). Pengaturan elemen-elemen dasar arsitektural dibangun berbarengan dengan citra atau pantulan jiwa primordial seseorang meruangi. Ruang-ruang yang dibangun tidak berhenti untuk memenuhi tugas fungsional. Penghuninya menentukan seberapa emosional laku meruang diciptakan.

Judul: Mengaduk Ruang: Tafsir Merakyat atas Bangunan | Penulis: Rifai Asyhari | Penerbit: Hatopma | Cetak : Pertama, Oktober 2019 | Tebal: xviii+122 halaman

Begitu bangunan selesai dirancang seorang arsitek atau perancang paling amatir sekalipun dan diwujudkan oleh para tukang, penghuni barangkali adalah pihak paling otoritatif membentangkan pengalaman meruang. Inilah yang dilakukan oleh Rifai Asyhari lewat buku kumpulan esai Mengaduk Ruang: Tafsir Kerakyatan atas Bangunan (2019). Setidaknya dari penuturan ke penuturan yang kentara menonjolkan penghadiran raga diri, Rifai juga membawa pembaca untuk seolah saat ini juga menghadapi bentangan arsitektural. Rifai menempatkan mata pada sekat, tembok, lantai, atap, seng, tanah, udara, kepengapan, kelonggaran, himpitan, jarak, atau kelegaan.

Kita cerap, “Ukuran tiap kamar hanya 3×3.5 meter. Cukup kecil, cukup buat selonjor atau berbaring seorang manusia dewasa. Setiap kamar dipisahkan dinding tripleks yang tipis. Penghuni kos terbiasa mendengar dengkuran halus seorang yang tidur lebih dulu […] Selain dinding tripleks, lantainya tak dipasangi kramik. Hanya lantai semen berlapis plastik. Tidak ada kamar mandi khusus anak kos selain sebuah kamar mandi yang digunakan secara bersamaan oleh keluarga sang pemilik dan anak kos,” (hal. 5). Di esai pertama berjudul “Rasanya Tinggal di Kos Termurah Se-Yogyakarta”, Rifai cukup percaya diri mengajukan kos sebagai ruang spasial yang “dikuasai”, menautkan dengan harga, nilai guna, dan peristiwa para penghuninya.

Namun meski Rifai tidak mengungkapkan secara tersurat dan frontal, kos termurah se-Yogyakarta di Nologaten yang sedemikian sederhana itu, sebenarnya menghadapi hal tidak sederhana. Ada kekuatan pertumbuhan properti di luar dinding batako. “Di sekitar lokasi indekosku, terdapat dua hotel yang ramai dikunjungi orang dari pelbagai daerah. Nologaten makin ramai dan maju. Namun, cerita tentang sepasang orangtua yang kesulitan membangun sebuah rumah kecil nyatanya masih ada,” begitu keniscayaan pertarungan ruang industrial dan rumah saling dinegasikan Rifai. Hotel hanya salah satunya saat komersialisme begitu kuat mempengaruhi pertumbuhan bangunan.

Sebagai efeknya, Rifai memang tidak menampik bahwa kos memang “sebatas untuk tidur” bagi para penghuni yang berstatus mahasiswa mahasiswa semester atas. Mobilitas berkegiatan di luar ruang kos sempit dan sering kurang nyaman cenderung menonjolkan nilai guna daripada citra. Karena sering kos tidak dipersepsikan sebagai rumah, ia tidak dipersiapkan menjadi ruang transisi ke hal-hal lebih emosional.

Bahkan di esai berjudul “Mengingat Rumah dari Episode Kepulangan yang Singkat”, ada perasaan dilematis justru saat Rifai membentangkan peta ingatan masa kecil sekaligus penghadiran masa dewasa atas jalan, pemandangan, ruang-ruang (dalam) rumah, kolam ikan, atau halaman. Pulang ke Jawar, Wonosobo, seperti berpindah ke keterasingan. Kepulangan demi meruang itu cukup sebagai episode “mampir” daripada “singgah” karena perpindahan geografis sekaligus pergantian ruang desa ke kota. Momentum yang diakui Rifai, “Bagiku, mengingat rumah berarti mengingat masa kecil. Kenanganku di Jawar berhenti pada usia 11 tahun. Setelah itu, hanya episode-episode kepulangan dalam jeda yang singkat.”

Namun dari jeda singkat ini, kita bisa menyepakati bahwa kepulangan tidak hanya berarti memulangkan raga, tapi juga emosionalitas yang pernah bertumbuh dalam lipatan arsitektural ataupun peristiwa komunal manusianya. Rifai mengatakan, “Meski jarang kusambangi, itu tetap rumahku. Sejauh apa pun aku pergi, alamat rumah itulah satu-satunya yang kutuju.”


Sejak kecil, kita sepertinya kurang diajari cara mempersepsikan diri di hadapan ruang. Kita lebih dituntut untuk tahu fungsi-manfaat suatu tempat. Seringnya, tempat-tempat begitu berjarak dari kehidupan personal kita, apalagi bukan milik kita. Seberapa lama seseorang “mendiami” suatu tempat, ia belum tentu merasa memiliki “meruangi”. “Kerakyatan” yang menjadi istilah kelihatan sepele tapi cukup sakral di judul buku, terutama tidak dihadirkan untuk menunjukkan kelemahan secara ekonomi. Istilah mengalihkan dari kesan monopolistik bahwa arsitektur dalam bentuk secara material, perasaan, sekaligus keilmuan cenderung menjadi hak arsitek, kaum perkotaan pembaca majalah lifestyle dan desain interior, atau mahasiswa arsitektur.  

Bisa jadi, obrolan arsitektur di Galeri Lorong, Tirtonirmolo, Yogyakarta, bersama Anas Hidayat, dosen jurusan Arsitektur dan Desain Komunikasi Visual UPN “Veteran” Surabaya di Galeri Lorong, Tirtonirmolo, menjadikan salah satu pondasi menafsir secara  kerakyatan. Setidaknya sebelum bermimpi memiliki rumah, Rifai percaya untuk terlibat membicarakan tukang, modal, arsitektur berwawasan lingkungan, alienasi ruang perkotaan, atau hunian alternatif. Rifai mencatat, “Setiap individu sebaiknya menafsir karya arsitektur dengan bebas. Meski pemahamannya mungkin berbeda jauh dengan maksud arsitek. Dengan memahami secara bebas, karya arsitektur akan kian beragam dan tidak monoton” (hal. 58).

Pengalaman kerakyatan dipilih Rifai memang cenderung membuat gaya penuturan menjadi lempeng. Boleh dikatakan Rifai sangat percaya pada tafsir yang mendasari subjudul otoritatifnya. Tapi setidaknya paling kuat tampak dalam dua esai enerjik berjudul “Peradaban yang Kebingungan” dan “Wastu Citra: Melampaui Urusan Teknis Arsitektur”, Rifai tidak hanya bertungkus lumus dengan apa yang dilihat dan diruanginya. Masih tetap secara kerakyatan, ada upaya turut dalam polemik tata ruang dan lingkungan yang terjadi sejak masa 70-an ataupun jati diri arsitektur lokal ke-Nusantaraan yang mendapat momentumnya sejak masa kolonial serta begitu dipikirkan oleh Y.B. Mangunwijaya. 

Lantas, pengalaman meruangi “Imajinasi Ruang Rumah Mikro” semacam melengkapi peradaban ruang yang kebingungan di tengah bersikap pada alam. Rifai menjumpai rumah mikro atau rumi yang ditawarkan oleh Studio Akanoma rintisan arsitek muda Bandung, Yu Sing, yang tidak hanya menawarkan hunian alternatif bagi masyarakat perkotaan, tapi juga cara membangun sekaligus menghuni yang berusaha tidak melukai ekologi.

Percayalah, sebelum memasuki ruang-ruang dinamis rumi, kita turut merasakan suguhan paha kambing dan ayam berbumbu rahasia yang menyambut Rifai saat bertandang. Kembali pada cara kerakyatan, Rifai meruangi, “Detail ruangan rumi benar-benar diperhatikan. Aku tidak menganggap rumi seperti garasi yang gelap meski berukuran sama. Banyak laci dan ruang kecil untuk menyimpan barang. Kamar mandinya yang memanjang seluas 1×2.5 meter terasa sangat nyaman. Satu sisi untuk toilet. Sisi lainnya shower dan wastafel. Bersih dan sejuk. Jenis kamar mandi yang memungkinkanmu untuk melamun atau memikirkan persoalan hidup” (hal. 97).

Setiap yang ditangkap mata Rifai adalah upaya memenangkan raga dan emosionalitas meruang dengan merdeka dan merakyat. Memang, perkara memiliki rumah misalnya, tidak hanya dibangun dari impian atau rencana. Betapa Kita membutuhkan material untuk mewujudkan setiap elemen arsitektural mewujud. Rifai telah memulainya dengan mengaduk cara mempersepsikan dan alternatif-alternatif arsitektural bertaut dengan masalah finansial dan ekologi. 

Suatu sepele nan penting, Mengaduk Ruang sedikit mematahkan pakem bahwa buku bertema arsitektur harus mewah dan (sebaiknya) mahal. Begitu pun hunian kita di masa depan.

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Mycel Pancho—Penikmat kopi pahit. Sudah satu dekade menjadi pekerja teks komersial. Lahir di Jakarta, bertumbuh dewasa di Pulau Dewata dan kembali di ibu kota untuk menjadi tua. Sejak sekolah, pecinta teater ini gemar menikmati sastra dan menulis apa saja untuk tetap waspada. Satu puisinya pernah terbit dalam buku antologi puisi Tentang Angin (2007), produksi Teater Angin SMA 1 Denpasar.

Aku sakit. Sakitnya sudah lama. Akhirnya terbaring di rumah sakit sejak hari ini. Gejala sakitnya aneh. Tidak ada demam, tidak ada batuk apalagi pilek. Pusing tak ada, apalagi sakit kepala. Tapi anehnya, seluruh sendi dan tulangku ngilu. Sakitnya seperti sedang terserang demam menahun. Ngilunya persis seperti cucian diperas berulang-ulang. Kadang telapak kaki dan tangan rasanya seperti ditusuk jarum pentul yang biasa nenek gunakan untuk merapikan seprai ranjang tuannya.

Selain itu, sewaktu-waktu kepalaku juga kliyengan. Rasanya limbung mau jatuh terus. Tapi tidak pusing, tidak sakit kepala. Rasanya hanya berputar terus seperti bianglala yang kebanyakan tamu di akhir pekan. Rasanya juga seperti ditarik kanan kiri tak pakai berhenti.

Pagi ini aku ke rumah sakit bersama ibuku. Setelah dokter sibuk memegang dahiku, mendengar detak jantung dan suara paru-paruku lewat stetoskopnya, mengetuk-ngetuk lututku dengan palu kecil dan menggosok telapak-telapakku dengan tongkat besi. Dokter itu berpikir keras. Ia membuka buku-buku kedokteran dan membolak-balik catatan kesehatanku. Secara tiba-tiba, dokter itu bilang …

“Kamu harus opname hari ini. Nanti kita observasi. Ada asuransi tidak?”

“Ada, Dok. Memang saya sakit apa, Dok?

“Masih belum jelas, makanya kita perlu observasi dulu selama beberapa hari ini”.

Jadilah aku berada di kamar kelas tiga ini. Aku tidur di bangsal paling ujung dekat jendela. Aku tidur dalam satu ruangan dengan lima pesakitan lainnya. Aku tidak sempat sensus siapa saja yang dirawat bersamaku dan sakit apa saja mereka. Kukira besok juga saat bibiku datang, hal itu pasti bisa langsung kuketahui darinya yang bercita-cita jadi ibu RT.

Belum satu hari aku dirawat di rumah sakit, sanak saudara dari ibuku sudah tiba. Mulut cerewetnya sudah pasti ikut serta. Belum apa-apa sudah berkomentar dan memberi diagnosa, lagak macam dokter kelas dunia saja. Mulai pun belum observasiku di rumah sakit itu, sanak saudara sudah bisa beri hasil.

Bibi bilang aku sakit ringan. Paling hanya kolesterol naik. Cukup masuk akal kalau aku ingat-ingat lagi apa saja yang sering kumasukkan ke dalam mulut dan lanjut ke perut. Tak heran juga itu terjadi karena udang rebus kemerahan memang salah satu favoritku sejak anak-anak. Apalagi daging merah adalah idolaku selama tiga tahun belakangannya ini. Semua yang merah lah pokoknya aku suka.

Belum selesai soal kolestrol, suami bibiku menyergah dan berkomentar. Katanya aku mungkin juga kena gula. Diabetes memang ada dalam garis darah keluarga kami. Apalagi, kakekku yang luar biasa sakti dan kuat itu akhirnya malah mati karena gula darahnya naik dalam dua tahun terakhir sebelum dia lepas usia. Tapi aku langsung bilang tidak tidak tidak padanya. Aku yakin aku tidak diabetes karena aku tidak suka manis. Satu-satunya manis yang bisa kusukai hanya wajahmu dan senyumanmu saja.

Aku sakit. Malam ini malam pertama aku menjalani waktu tidur di ranjang rumah sakit. Aku ingin tidur tapi sulit karena keberisikan. Berisik suara tetesan infus, suara AC, suara pasien sebelah yang mengorok, suara pasien di ranjang seberang yang susah nafas, suara pasien di dekat pintu yang kentut melulu, suara suster bolak balik mengecek pasien, suara ibuku yang terus bergerak karena sakit tidur di kursi, sampai suara di kepalaku yang terus memikirkan dan merindukan kamu.

Hari ini teman-teman ibu membesukku. Mereka datang bergerombolan sambil ketawa-ketiwi layaknya orang akan pergi piknik ke pantai. Pakaian mereka pun luar biasa cantik seperti mau peragaan busana. Beberapa ada yang membawa makanan banyak sekali, kurasa mungkin ada yang sungguhan sekalian membawa tikar.

Aku sakit dan teman-teman ibuku ini berkicau tak berhenti soal mistis. Melihat kondisiku, mereka malah cerita soal kawan mereka yang terkena ilmu hitam. Mereka bilang ada temannya yang salah ucap di suatu tempat ke seseorang, besoknya sakit tak jelas, masuk rumah sakit dan tak lama mati. Ada lagi yang cerita bahwa kenalannya tak sengaja melangkahi tangga yang ternyata ada setannya. Seketika orang itu jatuh, kakinya patah dan tidak sembuh sampai setengah usianya lewat.

“Bener lho, Dik. Teman saya sakit nggak jelas kenapa dan tidak sembuh-sembuh. Sudah berobat sana-sini, akhirnya bisa hidup tenang setelah berobat ke orang pintar. Coba saja, Dik. Daripada buang uang di rumah sakit tapi ndak sehat-sehat. Ke orang pintar cuma bayar seikhlasnya, Dik. Dijamin langsung bisa hidup tenang!”

Orang pintar katanya.. Magis katanya. Apa iya aku bisa percaya dengan yang seperti itu saat ini? Orang pintar yang kukenal hanya kamu. Magis yang kupercaya hanya berupa pesonamu yang membuatku tidak bisa tidak melayang kalau sedang kamu pandang.

Lagi pula, jika kuingat-ingat, beberapa waktu belakangan aku tidak pernah salah ucap ke orang lain, apalagi melangkahi tangga. Aku juga tidak suka berbuat aneh-aneh di tempat asing karena keluar rumah pun aku jarang sekali. Kecuali untuk menjumpai kamu.

Hari ini adalah hari ke dua ratus aku di rumah sakit. Asuransiku sudah menyerah menanggung biaya sejak hari ke tiga puluh. Orang tuaku sudah kehabisan barang untuk dijual. Aku pun tak punya aset macam-macam lain yang bisa kugadaikan untuk bayar rumah sakit. Kami semua makin pucat, aku makin sakit. Sementara dokter dan perawat di rumah sakit, cuma mereka yang wajahnya semakin berseri-seri.

Sudah hampir 365 hari aku di rumah sakit, hasil observasi tidak juga keluar. Aku masih saja sakit sendi dan sakit tulang. Sakit yang membuatku tidak bisa pulang. Sakit yang membuat tagihan rumah sakit gendut, sementara rekeningku ikut mengkerut. Sakit yang membuatku ingin kamu datang.

Hari itu akhirnya kamu datang. Kamu datang setelah satu tahun pergi entah untuk menemukan apa. Kamu datang dengan senyumanmu yang selalu kumimpikan setiap malam. Kamu datang dengan kelembutan tanganmu yang dulu mengusapku setiap hari. Kamu datang dengan kehangatan pelukanmu yang dulu membalutku setiap beberapa jam sekali.

Kamu datang, melepas infusku. Saat itu juga aku pulang karena sakitku hilang.

Dan semua dokter di rumah sakit itu..

“Ternyata hanya rindu.. Dasar, bikin kerjaan orang saja”.

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