Dialogue to the Future: Interviews with a New Generation of Researchers in the AJI

Third Interview

Interview with Dr. ASHARDIONO Fitrio

future_03_header  Research Produced with Local Farmers in Japan and Indonesia: The Pursuit of Sustainable Agriculture under Climate Change

Interviewer: First, could you tell me what led you to decide on a career as a researcher?

Fitrio: Since I liked doing research, I thought it would suit me better than other careers. So, I decided to take this path. After I completed my doctorate, I once left the academic world and worked for a company, but I wanted to do what I loved, even if it was tough. That’s why I returned to this university. I also really like teaching, which is part of a researcher’s job, and I think that conveying what I’ve learned to the younger students and supporting them as much as I can is quite a joy, which I cannot get from other jobs.
——So, you did not embark on your academic career path directly. You chose to return to education after working for a company.

When you came to Japan from Indonesia, you studied at APU (Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University) at first. What inspired you to study in Japan? And how was your life studying abroad when you first came to Japan?

Fitrio: Indeed, I have loved Japanese pop culture since I was a teenager and dreamed to study in Japan one day. But, when I was an undergraduate, my parents disapproved of it, so it did not happen. When I decided to go on to graduate school, I was actually torn between Singapore and Japan. In the end, I chose Japan because I wanted to study in such a different culture from my own and gain a variety of experiences there, in addition to my love of pop culture.

When I first came to Japan, I thought I would go back to Indonesia after I finished graduate school, and I feel that I did not actively try to learn Japanese or study that seriously. However, as I gradually came across teachers and friends from various countries in the academic environment of my graduate school, I realized that my world would expand, I felt like testing my potential more in the Japanese academic world. From this turning point, I have worked hard not only on my research, but also on my Japanese language studies, trying to understand more about Japanese society.

—— You were stimulated by the international environment of Japanese graduate schools, which motivated you to stay and continue your studies in Japan. That is wonderful.

Then, after studying abroad in graduate school, you continued to live in Japan for many years. So, what is your impression of Japanese society today?

Fitrio: As a foreigner, I feel that Japan is a very comfortable country to live in. The city streets are beautiful and urban development seems to be planned around pedestrians. In other countries, there is a tendency to see a lot of garbage along the roadside due to the large number of pedestrians, but in Japan there is almost no garbage and the number of garbage cans in public places is surprisingly small. I feel that the urban environment in Japan can be maintained in such a beautiful manner, because of the high awareness of environmental health and conservation among users. Presumably, environmental awareness is fostered in Japanese society from a young age, and the understanding of environmental issues and climate change seems to be growing every year, especially among the younger generation today.

——As you specialize in climate activity and sustainable agriculture, I appreciate that the views you just shared of the urban environment in Japan are from the perspective of your profession.

By the way, why did you choose these research topics?

Fitrio: This is also due to my postgraduate experience at APU. I originally studied engineering for my B.A. degree, and also, I have studied how we can improve the garbage problem in Indonesia from an engineering perspective from my undergraduate to my master’s degree. It was very different from my current research topic. However, during my master’s degree at APU, Professor Monte Cassim, who would later become my doctoral advisor, invited me to join a research project that involved climate change and agriculture.

It is certainly important to make some efforts to prevent climate change, of course. However, there has not been much research in Japan to predict and take action against the impacts of climate change on agriculture in the real world. This is why I became interested in this subject and decided to work on it as a research topic for my doctoral program. Specifically, the issue I became interested in was how to protect tea cultivation in the Uji-area in Kyoto, Japan from the effects of climate change and maintain its quality. In fact, however, it is said that conducting research in a traditional community like Uji is not so easy, even for Japanese researchers. Moreover, I have received many comments like: “It is impossible for an Indonesian like you to study tea from Uji.” Nonetheless, by working closely with the community and showing an understanding of and respect for local norms and culture, I was able to continue my research in Uji for four years and complete my doctoral thesis.

—— It sounds so tough and interesting. In addition to the drastic change in your field of research, your study of tea growing in Uji requires a steady relationship with local people there.

Could you tell me about your recent research topics?

Fitrio: Sure, my current research, like my doctoral work, predicts the impact of climate change on agriculture and takes steps to address it, and recently I also focus on coffee agriculture in Indonesia. Coffee consumption has significantly increased around the world in recent years, and while it is an essential crop for our lives, it is also a luxury that requires the maintenance of high quality.

——Absolutely. No coffee, no daily life for me too. How large is Indonesia’s coffee industry?

Fitrio: Very large. In fact, Indonesia is the fourth largest producer of coffee in the world and a major contributor to coffee culture worldwide. However, this industry is in a critical situation now because the impacts of climate change are estimated to reduce production by 80% in 2050. In order to contribute to the situation in my home country, I am currently working with researchers, farmers, and members of the union in Indonesia to conduct a study about how we can predict the effects of climate change and take measures to ensure that Indonesian coffee is grown stably while preserving its high quality.

——Oh, an 80% loss is a shocking prediction. But, at the same time, the findings of your previous research on Uji tea can be expected to be further developed in your home country.

Now, let me ask another question. You are now an assistant professor in the College of Policy Science at Ritsumeikan University. How do you feel about being involved in education at a Japanese university?

Fitrio: Japanese universities have a long history of academic accumulation, they have good infrastructure, and they attract international students from all over the world. I think they have a very attractive environment for studying. I think that one of the reasons I chose Japan is that when I studied at a graduate school in this country, I realized how interesting the academic world was in the environment here.

——I see. That is what inspired you to become a researcher in the first place, right?

Fitrio: Yes. However, when I think about them in the light of my own experience, I have some concerns when I work with Japanese students. I often wonder if college for them is just the first step towards getting a job, or if they see it as an equivalent experience to something like a part-time job, and I am deeply saddened to see that. Also, some students, not all of them, are less willing to take just one step from their present values to consider different views. For those students, I would like to stress in education that college is a place where they have a lot of opportunities to step out of their worlds and into different ones. At the university, students can easily meet college members and friends from different countries and regions, with different values, and there are various programs available. I hope students can use this environment to the best of their abilities. Even if someone does not have a big dream, it’s OK, but I want them to realize their potential more and more every day, pay attention to the outside world, and embrace their willingness to try new things. I always want to support students who feel this way as much as possible.

—— I agree with you. It could be said that the core of education is to encourage students to take a step or even half a step into different worlds.

In addition, if you have any opinions about the internationalization of Japan or the internationalization of Ritsumeikan University, please tell me about them.

Fitrio: Compared to the time when I first came to Japan, I think Japanese society has changed a lot. In fact, more and more foreigners live in Japan, and signposts and displays are written in multiple languages. Moreover, at Ritsumeikan University, there are now four colleges with English programs, and before the COVID19, the number of international students was increasing every year.

——Certainly. How is the situation in your class?

Fitrio: Well, among the subjects I currently teach are classes in which international and non-international students study together, and I try to make them understand the importance of mutual cooperation to achieve their research objectives. I believe that internationalizing the environment in each class in Ritsumeikan University will continue to have a positive impact on society as a whole in Japan.

——I see. Internationalization is not just about programs, but it is about learning empirically the importance of building cooperative relationships on the ground.

What do you most enjoy about your research recently? In the case of your research, you conduct field research overseas. Also, please tell us about the impact of the pandemic and other factors.

Fitrio: Last summer (2022), when the pandemic situation calmed down a bit, I was able to conduct research outside of Japan for the first time in about three years, and through that experience, I have once again found that research is so interesting. I work with a lot of quantitative data to get an accurate figure of the state of climate change and predict its effects. At the same time, as we take steps to address climate change, we actively conduct qualitative research, including semi-structured interviews and observations, in order to gain a closer understanding of the local wisdom that has accumulated over time and the current situation and challenges faced by farmers. In particular, a qualitative survey in which I directly visit the place and hear the stories of the people involved is a very valuable opportunity to encounter the true face of the area and the wisdom of the ancestors accumulated in the area, which can never be found from the analysis of the data. Also, I stress the process of formulating policies together through exchanging information and knowledge with the local people, and I am glad that I have conducted research through the process of learning and changing together with these people.

——I could really relate to what you said about the fact that there is a form of wisdom that comes to light not only in data, but also in human interaction.

This is my last question. What kind of plans for the future do you have in mind now?

Fitrio: I will continue my research and education in the academic world of Japan. Now, I am conducting my research focusing on Indonesian coffee, and I believe that I can apply the knowledge I have gained in Indonesia to Uji-cha tea and Japanese agriculture, so I hope to build a bridge between Indonesia and Japan from the perspective of agricultural countermeasures against climate change.

——It is very significant to see how the findings of coffee research in Indonesia will be applied to further research on Uji tea. Thank you very much for sharing your ideas and experiences with us today.

Previous Interviews