Sumba Island in Indonesia is one of the most drought-affected areas in South-east Asia, with farmers going without rain for 6 months to even up to 9 months. For most of the farmers in Sumba, the key source of irrigation is rainfall. The increase in the frequency of prolonged droughts has disastrous effects on such rain-dependent farmers, whose harvests are used largely for the purpose of feeding themselves and their families. This fearful situation has taken a new height as COVID-19 has struck on their livelihood, negatively impacting not only their financial side but also taking a toll on their morale.
Sumba Island is home to many of our Barsha Pumps that deliver water to drought-prone areas. To better understand the current situation of farmers in Sumba, our aQysta country head in Indonesia Annisa Anindita talked with Mr. Heinrich Dengi, the program manager of Komunitas Radio Max FM Waingapu (KRMW), which is aQysta’s partner organization for the EASI-Pay project in Sumba. Mr. Dengi works closely with farmers, in providing farming-related training ensuring the proper implementation of Barsha Pumps while also offering various other support to farmers to increase their overall agricultural productivity.
Mr. Dengi shared with us some of the insights from his experience on how farmers in Sumba are coping with the impact of climate change and COVID-19.
Annisa: Good Afternoon, Pak. Hein. Can you briefly share with us your experience of working with farmers in Sumba, Indonesia? What are some of the key challenges farmers are facing currently in Sumba?
Heinrich: As you also know, Ms. Dita, Sumba is a semi-arid area with long dry seasons and hilly contours. Water is a severe problem faced by farmers here. A given soil condition can grow anything, but to have good production, hands down, water plays the most critical role. The situation is not that we do not have water. We do. But it is 5-6 meters below the land. Without a water pump, a farmer can mostly plant a maximum of 10 vegetable beds. Planting 20-100 beds would be impossible. Farmers with no access to water pumps who are victimized by intense droughts, they then hunt for foods in the high mountains to survive, risking their lives, because they must eat to survive.
The situation today is that we still get our food from outside of Sumba. Shallots, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, they come over the ocean from Bima and Bali, resulting in the product to become more expensive and not appealing in terms of freshness. I believe that farmers in Sumba can produce good harvests. But we are not accustomed to producing in large quantities, for large markets. One of the main reasons is that there is no proper access to water.
Annisa: How did these challenges get fueled by the COVID-19 situation? Do you think it is impacting the farmers in better or worse ways?
Heinrich: Hearing the news about the COVID-19 situations, farmers here are scared to death. Also, because access to information is still limited here. They do not have proper information about COVID-19 except that the virus can take one’s life, and they also have been getting a negative response from the market. One of the residents in one of the villages in Sumba was found positive for COVID-19, but the market rejected the vegetables supplied from the entire village. Such reactions amidst a pandemic hurt the farmers' morale.
We all fear how COVID-19 has started taking the toll in our daily lives. But we cannot eat if we do not go to the farm. If all the farmers of the world stopped going to farm being scared, how is this world going to meet its food demand? With such thought and with taking the precautionary measures, we re-started our farming activities in May.
Annisa: According to your experience has there been any shift in the consumption pattern of the people amidst COVID-19? How has this impacted the food demand and supply in Indonesia?
Heinrich: Due to COVID-19, many people stay at home or return to their villages. Currently, they see farming as an alternative source of income. So, they start their garden and grow vegetables. So, there is also a good supply in the market. And so is the market demand, as people do have to eat every day.
In my opinion, COVID-19 also opens a new market opportunity, if the harvest is good and unique. For example, one of our regular customers is a restaurant owner. With the fresh vegetables we supplied, they came up with a salad recipe that is still extremely rare in Sumba, hence, it is of high value.
Not all farmers are willing to sit folding their hands getting scared of COVID-19, so this is an opportunity for farmers who dare to be creative. For example, if there are 10 farmers in a farmers group, not all of them dare to go to the fields and work – Maybe 5 do. If this continues, there might eventually be a shortage of food, but it is also an opportunity for farmers who dare to work hard to fill these gaps.
Annisa: How do you think our EASI-pay farmers are holding up in this situation? In your opinion, is Barsha Pump helping secure food supply in Sumba?
Heinrich: Farmers who have access to Barsha Pumps have comparatively fewer water problems. Because, if the river is flowing, Barsha Pump can supply water 24/7 to their farm, hassle-free. Also, with access to water, farmers get motivated to expand their area of cultivation. We as EASI-Pay farmers will continue to plant and harvest crops until October-November for this year, which is way into the dry season.
Using a Barsha pump for one household also helps in maintaining social distancing during the COVID-19 situation. It is in the sense that, if the water must be fetched from the river manually, farmers will have to go to the river where they can meet fellow farmers. With Barsha Pump, water gets directly delivered to the desired location without much intervention from farmers.
Annisa: How do you think we should help farmers to not get affected by Covid-19 situations to secure the food supply, keeping long term sustainability on mind?
Heinrich: In my opinion, as a farmer, adhering to the precautionary measures for COVID-19, we need to plant a lot, provide healthy production, and healthy food, so that our society remains healthy. And as a general public, we can help farmers by buying their local products.
To assist our EASI-Pay farmers, we have set up an online shop to sell our organic agricultural products. We have regular customers who can order via WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger. And we are trying our best to deliver the freshly produced organic vegetables. Attempts like these help farmers stay motivated to carry on their farming activities, hence, securing the local food supply.
The EASI-Pay program of aQysta is an effort to help farmers to get easy access to modern and sustainable irrigation technologies to improve their agricultural output while leaving zero carbon footprint. With EASI-pay, we aim to help farmers to move from being dependent on rain-fed irrigation to having year-round commercial farming, irrespective of any season. EASI-Pay farmers get the clean technology Barsha Pump without paying anything for it upfront and pay only after they meet a good harvest. For readers who are in Sumba and need fresh organic produce from our EASI-Pay farmers, please feel free to contact us at info.indonesia@aQysta.com.