Project Compassion Week 6: Indonesia

When farmers in a remote West Timor community learn to terrace land, harness water and grow sustainable crops for life, they’re able to guard against unpredictable weather and prosper.

Changing weather patterns affect us all, but there is significant evidence to suggest that the poorest people of the world are the most vulnerable to the consequences of global climate variations.

Vinsen (39) is a farmer living in West Timor, Indonesia. Until five years ago, his farm had always experienced predictable weather, but recently the weather has become increasingly erratic and difficult to forecast, causing havoc for his crops.

While weather was predictable in the past, it didn’t mean that farming was easy or profitable. Farmers in Vinsen’s community experienced poor soil fertility and significant erosion. They tried to combat the problem by frequently moving fields. ”In the past, we practised shifting fields agriculture, working for two years in one field then moving on,” says Vinsen.

With this kind of farming Vinsen had no food security for his family, which made him anxious about providing for the future. 

In 2010 and 2011 things took a dramatic turn for the worse, when Vinsen’s village was hit by heavy rains and strong winds, which destroyed crops and killed livestock. Incomes plummeted and famine spread throughout the area.

Fortunately, Vinsen’s family did not experience famine, but recognising their vulnerability he enrolled in the Sustainable Agriculture Program– an initiative supported by Caritas Australia and run by local partner Yayasan Mitra Tani Mandiri (YMTM).

Respecting the environment and our role as Stewards of Creation, the YMTM Program provides training for farmers like Vinsen, who learn to plant long-term crops in addition to short life-span crops like vegetables. This helps them to build a stable, sustainable livelihood that means they can survive crop fluctuations and unexpected weather events.

In each village there’s a YMTM Field Officer to help and advise on challenges faced by the farmers. In Vinsen’s village the farmers learnt to terrace their land and turned sloping land into a series of increasing steps. Upland terracing and planting stabilises hillsides and provides additional security from landslides. It also helps prevent erosion, increase soil fertility and harness valuable rainfall. This single change has made a huge impact on both the efficiency and the sustainability of the community’s farming.

Through the program farmers also learnt to work effectively in groups to farm their land. Vinsen enjoys this shared feeling of purpose, as well as the increase in productivity that allows them to cultivate greater areas of land.

Since the YMTM Program, Vinsen’s income has increased by 25% and his family are living without fear of food insecurity. From his garden, Vinsen has produced many different kinds of plants, and has a sustainable, secure food source for life. As a result his family is happy, healthy and far less vulnerable to future climate variations.

“Before the program I was very anxious,” says Vinsen. “But now I do not worry. There is always cassava, banana and taro in the garden. We will not be hungry.”

Through the program, Vinsen also acquired the business skills to establish a savings and loan group so he can grow his income and become more independent.  He’s also the leader of the farmer groups and is passing on all that he’s learnt to others in his community, and engaging more farmers in the program.

“I have a prosperous life, a very supportive family. For that I work very hard,” says Vinsen. “Now my children can go to school and become successful persons. Thank you so much to the people of Australia who have helped support YMTM.”

Please donate to Project Compassion 2015 and help farmers in remote West Timor grow sustainable crops for life, regardless of changing weather patterns.

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Caritas Australia

Caritas Australia, a Catholic Agency for International Aid and Development, is part of a global network that spans over 200 countries and territories. For over 110 years, Caritas has worked towards the creation of a just world. In 1964, Caritas began in Australia.

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