24 Apr 2021
Several years ago, I visited a village on the island of Solor. The trip took approximately one hour by motorboat from Larantuka, and was followed by a road trip using an ojek (motorbike taxi). Upon arriving at the destination village, the village head immediately shared the challenges he and the community faced, such as the dry and arid nature, rocky soil, rare rain, and hot weather. However, on the other hand, Solor Island has extraordinary natural beauty. The island of Solor is surrounded by beautiful seas and beaches, and has exotic savanna grasslands.
Without intending to underestimate the complaints and challenges faced by villagers, the question arises; with a challenging climate and landscape, what made the ancestors of the Solor people survive hundreds or even thousands of years? Is there any ancestral local wisdom for us to know to embrace again? The answer might be that there used to be sorghum as a staple food source for the people there, which grew well in dry climates.
In recent years, the KEHATI Foundation, together with local partners, such as Yaspensel and the Catholic church network, have implemented a sorghum revitalization program in Flores and its surroundings. Local wisdom that the community has long abandoned has been reintroduced. Now, thousands of hectares of sorghum fields have grown in various parts of Flores and several surrounding islands, such as Adonara, Lembata, and Solor. People have returned to competing to plant and cultivate sorghum.
The sorghum cultivation program has received support from various stakeholders. Apart from the church network, this program is supported by the district government and the Ministry of Agriculture. Sorghum seeds are being researched and developed to increase productivity. Machines and tools are disseminated for post-harvest processing.
Various initiatives continue to be carried out so that sorghum becomes an integral part of people’s food consumption. The processing of sorghum into a variety of consumer products is also being explored. Provision of processed sorghum products in schools and health centers, for example, becomes part of the strategy to introduce sorghum as a source of food as early as possible to future generations and increase nutritional intake, of course.
It’s still a long journey to go. Nevertheless, at least this program has made a significant contribution to the food security of the local community, and has begun to play a role in increasing farmers’ income. The sorghum revitalization program implemented in Flores is KEHATI’s effort in supporting national food security. This initiative is also in line with KEHATI’s mission to mainstream the conservation and utilization of biodiversity fairly and sustainably.
Diversity is a necessity (naturally given), and human existence is supported by a natural balance based on biodiversity. However, diversity is often marginalized by uniformity, as it often gives the illusion of simplicity. Therefore, understanding and appreciating the existence and value of biodiversity is very critical. Often exploring and embracing local wisdom paves the way to understand and appreciate biodiversity, including building food security.
Indonesia’s staple food consumption patterns in the past were full of diversity, based on the richness of local biodiversities, such as rice, sago, maize, sorghum, sweet potatoes, etc. However, this diversity has been transformed into uniformity; rice. Dependence on one food source automatically creates a concentration risk and keeps us hostage. No wonder we are used to being noisy and rowdy over rice.
In the last two decades, we have become aware of our over-dependence on rice. Consumption of rice has not increased any more and has even tended to decline, although only marginally. The 2018 BPS report stated that Indonesia’s per capita rice consumption in 2017 fell to 111.6 kilograms, down from previous years, ranging from 114 kilograms. Unfortunately, the consumption of other local food sources, such as sago, sweet potatoes, corn, and others, also continues to decline. Then, what food sources are increasing? The answer is wheat.
The consumption of wheat is multiplying. Noodles and bread, for example, have become the daily staples of the Indonesian people. Quoting the BPS report in the same year, Indonesia’s total wheat imports in 2017 reached 11.4 million tonnes, an increase of more than double compared to 2010, which was only 4.8 tonnes. In comparison, Indonesia’s rice consumption in 2017 was around 29.1 tonnes.
The problem is, wheat is completely imported, and we don’t have much control over the availability and stability of the supply or price. In addition, due to the increasingly inflated scale of imports, wheat has also become a significant contributor to Indonesia’s trade balance deficit. So far, encouraging food security by diversifying food sources based on local biodiversity has not shown significant progress. When we want to get rid of dependence on rice, we risk being held hostage to imported food sources, such as wheat.
The uniformity of food sources makes us overlook the richness of biodiversity as a potential food source and fail to take advantage of the rich diversity of Indonesia’s landscapes. This can lead to land-use change or deforestation, which may not actually be necessary.
The dry ecosystems in East Flores and the surrounding islands are not worthless and useless landscapes, simply because they are not productive for growing rice. The people there can cultivate sorghum and do not have to wait for rice supplies from other areas. New lands do not need to be cleared for rice fields in Sumatra or Kalimantan, to meet food needs in Flores.
The landscapes of Flores, Solor, Lembata, Adonara are part of the rich landscape of Indonesia, which is full of variety but has its own characteristics and values. Biodiversity, including ecosystem diversity, is the wealth of our nation, and should be utilized to develop food security. And if used optimally, it can contribute to preventing land-use change or deforestation.
Acknowledging and being grateful for Indonesia’s biodiversity is not only about the diversity of flora and fauna species, but also about the diversity of Indonesia’s ecosystems, which compose beautiful mosaics of the archipelago’s landscapes. (Riki Frindos, Executive Director of the KEHATI Foundation)
This article was published on tempo.co