Martin Westlake - Likotuden, East Flores - Indonesia - #3
Community leader Maria Loretha spent months travelling around the remote villages of East Flores talking to elders, before she eventually found the indigenous sorghum seed varieties that used to grow prolifically in this region of Indonesia. The ancient crop – now known for its superfood qualities – had all but died out on the volcanic island as successive governments encouraged farmers to grow commercial white rice varieties and maize instead. Sorghum became known as a ‘poor’ crop, only suitable for feeding to animals.
However, these commercial varieties did not work in East Flores, where the volcanic rock and lack of rain due to changing weather patterns were unable to support the same wet- based agriculture that flourished in other parts of Indonesia. Despite increasing amounts of chemical fertilisers, for which the community had to pay, successive crops failed, and local families were left hungry, in debt, and faced with the prospect of having to leave to become migrant workers in order to survive.
In response to this dire situation, Maria Loretha began to mobilise the women of the Likotuden area to plant 30 acres of sorghum using the old seed varieties she had collected from the elders. The crop is more labour intensive than rice and maize, but it requires less water and is more nutritious and versatile than these other grains. ‘We all know that when we eat sorghum, we feel fuller for longer than eating white rice’ says Maria. ‘And it can be cooked as a porridge, made into a flour, cooked into brownies, pizza or a pop-sorghum, like popcorn!’
The experiment, which initially involved 62 families, has proven so successful that it has now expanded to other parts of Indonesia. For the women of Likotuden, sorghum has become a route to independence, allowing them to break free from a reliance on chemical fertilisers and pesticides, from the devastating impact these have on the soil, and from a cycle of debt. ‘My friends say I am the maestro of sorghum, a master sorghum grower, but I am just an ordinary farmer’ says Maria. ‘However, I do feel like I live an extraordinary life while I live in Flores’.