By student correspondent Diana Tung
Long before Christina Griffin was crowned runner-up in ANU College of Asia & the Pacific’s Three-Minute Thesis competition, she moved to Jakarta to experience life in an Asian megacity. While she hadn’t set out to write a thesis on potato farming on volcanoes, she made the most of her three years in Indonesia.
“I learned Indonesian and volunteered with World Vision’s Emergency Management Team, and that sparked my interest in disaster management in Indonesia,” she said.
After returning to Australia to begin her PhD at the Crawford School of Public Policy, Christina began looking at potential field sites. She ultimately settled on the Dieng volcanic plateau in Central Java.
“I wanted to look at the interaction between a hazard and people. Volcanoes are good sites because they are so fertile and suited for dense agriculture, and they attract lots of people,” she said.
In addition to these considerations, Christina also had to think about the logistics of bringing her one-year-old daughter to the field, as well as the potential safety risks that drew her to the area in the first place.
Through her interviews with local farmers and broader fieldwork, Christina chose to focus her thesis on potato farming. In Dieng, tobacco farming had been the main cash crop since the 19th century. In 1985, potato farming was introduced and quickly became a key source of the community’s livelihood.
“People in the community talked about life before and after potato (farming), and how it improved living standards,” said Christina.
Dieng potatoes are now famous throughout the country. Despite the influence of urbanisation, many young people – including those with a formal education – are choosing to stay in farming. While declining soil fertility and diminishing size of landholdings means that potato farming may not be lucrative forever, currently potato farming in Dieng provides a snapshot into how a community deals with the challenges of risk and development.
Learn more about Christina and her research.