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Asriani: Corn under the blue skies of Gorontalo

  • Syamsul Huda M. Suhari

    The Jakarta Post

Gorontalo   /   Fri, April 10, 2015   /  09:31 am
Asriani: Corn under the blue skies of Gorontalo

JP/Syamsul Huda M. Suhari

A 37-year-old civil servant named Asriani likes to get out into the field '€” literally. Anie, as she is called, has been working with farmers to cultivate local varieties of corn in Gorontalo.

Anie, who graduated in communications from Hasanuddin University, Makassar, worked in public relations for the Gorontalo provincial government for seven years before her transfer to the Gorontalo Food Resilience Agency and Corn Information Center (BKPPIJ).

At the center, Anie grew closer to local corn farmers, many of whom she said, lived below the poverty level.

She also noted how foreign hybrid corn seedlings dominated local production, with almost no place for left for the big four local varieties of corn: Momala, Motoro Kiki, Bonia/Badia and Pulut (Binthe Pulo).

'€œThese four corn varieties are rarely grown by local farmers, because their yields aren'€™t as large as those of hybrids,'€ said Anie, currently the chief of the Dissemination and Information sub-division of the Gorontalo BKPPIJ.

Local corn is actually superior, Anie says. Motoro Kiki, for instance, is resistant to pests and diseases, tolerant of low-water conditions and thrives without chemical fertilizer in the less fertile soil of the province.

According to the BKPPI, a single cob of Motoro Kiki corn can provide 360.07 calories and about 70 percent of a person'€™s daily protein requirement.

Coming to harvest in less than 80 days, the tiny plants (standing only about 12 centimeters high) can yield about 3.0 tons of cobs per hectare.

Local corn varieties are less expensive than imported ones. Moreover, Motoro Kiki corn commands a comparatively sale price, with its dark yellow grains suitable for chicken feed.

Accordingly, the agency has started cultivating Motoro Kiki corn on demonstration plots, leaving distribution of seeds to the local agriculture agency.

About 14 hectares are currently under cultivation with local corn varieties.

'€œAs we have no authority to distribute seeds, we only allocate local corn varieties from demonstration plots to farmers or farmer groups interested in planting them,'€ Anie said.

She frequently speaks with farmers to convince them to keep growing local corn to preserve the region'€™s identity and the local ecological balance. '€œIt'€™s not easy to convince farmers to revert to local corn, which is mostly consumed by themselves, because the notion that hybrid corn is more profitable has been implanted in their mind-sets.'€

In the meantime, Anie is also busy on social media, posting messages to Facebook under the name Anie Annisa, as well as posting selfies in the corn fields and the complaints of farmers.

In early March, Anie was surprised tobe named one of 17 '€œSuper Women'€ by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), a Mexico-based institute focusing on the developing corn and wheat, as part of International Women'€™s Day events.

The women - selected for making breakthroughs in conservation agriculture, genetic resources, research, technology or socio-economic affairs '€” came from Canada, Guatemala, India, Kenya, Mexico and the UK, among other nations.

As the only woman from Indonesia, Asriani also appeared along with Barbara McClintock, a US geneticist who won the Nobel Prize in 1983.

In turns out that Anie was recommended by Amanda Katili Niode, an environmental activist from Gorantalo who has been promoting local cooking.

Amanda described Anie as a civil servant who eschewed her desk for field work to encourage farmers to cultivate Gorontalo'€™s superior yet endangered corn varieties.

Despite feeling pride, Asriani said that her work had all been part of the job. '€œI'€™ve just been striving to execute my duty in the best possible way.'€

Asriani said that she wanted her agency to increase its research and development budget for corn '€” and for the government to expand the market for locally cultivated corn. '€œRather than just for export, the government should also cover other creative businesses by promoting cuisine, among other things, such Gorontalo'€™s typical binthe biluhuta corn soup, made with local ingredients, which needs further popularization.'€

In the interim, the BKPPIJ has worked with the Cereal Research Agency of Maros, South Sulawesi, a government research body, to cultivate Gorontalo corn seedlings.

Her center has also set up a gene bank for varieties of Gorontalo corn. Thirty-three strains have been collected and studied.

'€œI can'€™t work alone ,'€ Anie says. '€œI expect the help of all relevant parties for the conservation of Gorontalo'€™s local corn seedlings so that they won'€™t just a story of bygone times for future generations.'€

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