The Jakarta Post
A sorghum field in Likotuden, Flores, East Nusa Tenggara. (JP/Hengky Ola Sura)
In the 1970s, sorghum grain was easily found and widely consumed in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT). The constant heat and low rainfall in the area allowed the plant to flourish, making it one of the staple foods in the area.
Rich in carbohydrates, the plant was also able to adapt to changing climate conditions.
But as residents turned to rice within the next three decades, it was swept aside.
Maria Loretha recalled the time she was introduced to sorghum in 2007 by her neighbor, Maria Helan. It came on a plate, steamed and sprinkled with grated coconut.
“It was unbelievably good,” she said.
At the time, she and her husband, Jeremias Letor, lived in Java. Upon coming back to Jeremias’ hometown of Adonara in East Flores, also in NTT, she decided to develop sorghum and bring it back to its heyday.
The struggle began in their own field. Armed with seeds given to her by her neighbor, Loretha sought for more information on sorghum.
Eventually, she received red-skinned and black-skinned sorghum seeds from various places in NTT — further proof that sorghum has been widely consumed on the island.
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Loretha then faced another obstacle as farmers were skeptical about her intentions. She reminded herself of the fact that almost 80 percent of NTT’s residents were farmers and how every year, they would be devastated by drought. She believed that sorghum would give them food sovereignty.
Supported by her husband and the Larantuka Catholic diocese, Loretha’s efforts slowly but surely began to bear fruit. Farmer groups in Adonara, Detusoko, Lembata and Timor Island began to seriously cultivate sorghum.
Harvesting sorghum in Kota Baru, Ende, East Nusa Tenggara. (JP/Ebit Wangge)
Pastor Benyamin Daud PR of the Larantuka diocese, who is also Economy and Social Development Foundation (Yaspensel) director, said sorghum could be found from the eastern part of Flores to Manggarai regency.
He explained that initially, the sorghum movement interfered with a government program for rice, maize and soybean production dubbed Pajale.
Fortunately, sorghum was later included in program, expanding its acronym to Pajaleso.
The sorghum movement ultimately gained the attention of the Agriculture Ministry’s Agricultural Research and Development Agency (Balitbangtan), the Cereal Research Agency of Maros, South Sulawesi, the Villages, Disadvantaged Regions and Transmigration Ministry and Office of the Presidential Staff.
In this year’s planting season, a portion of the state budget will be allocated to a 250-hectare area for a sorghum development program in East Flores. The budget will be managed by farmer groups formed by the East Flores Farming Agency.
“Our aim is to have a healthy society with sorghum, improving our nutrition and overcoming stunting,” Benyamin said. “We try to promote the fact that sorghum is nourishing and that with a healthy community, the economy will improve.” (wng)