From early December when the baking, dry heat scalds the land, to the end of the torrential rains in late March, people living in hundreds of villages in West Timor, Indonesia, have very little to eat. Crops can’t grow under either of these harsh conditions and it is common for whole villages to be low on food supplies.
For Tigor Butarbutar, the head of the Forest Research Institute in West Timor’s largest city, Kupang, this is an unacceptable situation in the new millennium, when the Western world celebrates its reckless affluence every day.
Tigor has partnered with Southern Cross University to help his region find a way to feed its people through developing agricultural diversity and implementing better water, land and forestry management practices.
As a recipient of a John Dylan Fellowship, from the Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research, he has chosen to work with forestry and environmental management experts at Southern Cross University to help meet his region’s present and future agro-forestry needs.
Professor Jerry Vanclay, Head of the School of Environmental Science and Management at Southern Cross University, and Dr David Lloyd, a senior lecturer in the School, recently worked with Tigor in West Timor on a scoping study to identify the area’s short and long-term rural development needs.
“From this we have developed a multi-layered strategy which involves both supporting farmers at a grass roots level with knowledge, skills and equipment, and also working with government agriculture and forestry representatives, training them in modern agro-forestry principles which are both appropriate and sustainable for village communities,” Dr Lloyd said.
Both Dr Lloyd and Professor Vanclay have had first-hand experience of the hardships currently being faced by the West Timorese and are committed to working with the people to find sustainable, affordable solutions.
“For a start, most villages have no irrigation or pumping facilities and water must be carried from wells and rivers by hand, so we can help with introducing small scale solar/electric pumps,” Professor Vanclay said.
“Through using water management techniques like swaling and retention ponds we can help re-charge the natural aquifers.
“Another simple way in which villagers can diversify is by introducing bee keeping. I have observed them in the dangerous practice of climbing tall trees to try and extract honey from native bee hives. We can make that practice safer and more productive by teaching them to farm the bees. Farming the native deer is another possibility which we are helping them to explore.
“Even something as simple as knowing how to prune a tree or fertilise it can lead to large increases in crop yields. And we can teach them how to propagate their native high-value trees like sandalwood and tamarind and value-add by making products from them.
“There is a lot we can teach the West Timorese about forest management, too. Currently they are harvesting trees too early and getting too high a percentage of the less valuable sapwood and not enough heartwood. Once they learn the right time to harvest, and how to successfully replant trees, forestry will become more profitable.”
Dr Lloyd said the University was very excited because there was so much knowledge that could be shared with the West Timorese that had the potential to dramatically improve their quality of life and earning capacity.
“I have already worked extensively in East Timor and many of the successful strategies we have implemented there are equally applicable in West Timor,” he said.
Tibor said he was delighted with the support he had received from the University and was looking forward to taking the knowledge back home and implementing it.
“We want to start in just a couple of villages at first so that we can learn by our mistakes and perfect the ideas. We are aiming at having a demonstration project to show the leaders of other villages,” Tigor said.
“We hope to encourage young people to get more involved, too. At present most teenagers leave their villages and go and find jobs in the nearby towns as there is no money to be made through agriculture and village life is hard. If we can improve their prospects by introducing more diversity, some of them might stay.”
Photo: Dr David Lloyd (left), Tigor Butarbutar and Professor Jerry Vanclay are working together on the West Timor project. High resolution photos are available by request from the media office.
Media contact: Zoe Satherley Southern Cross University media officer, 6620 3144, 0439 132 095.