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The Women Who Nurture Agriculture in Southwest Sumba, Indonesia

Posted On: November 23, 2023
Two members of the Suka Maju Women Farmer Group.
Mama Elin (right), the leader of KWT Suka Maju, with another member of the group.

Written by Petrus Aprido Roberto Faot (Technical Field Officer, Yayasan Bina Tani Sejahtera) and Mariska Estelita (Communications Lead, William & Lily Foundation)

SUMBA ISLAND, INDONESIA – Sumba Island is rich not only in natural resources but in traditional customs, shaped by native Marapu beliefs. In Sumbanese culture, women serve as the cornerstone of family and community. This crucial role is even reflected in the architecture of the island’s houses. When members of the Marapu community build a house, the first pillar erected is the Women’s Pillar (Pari’i Rabuka), which stands facing the Women’s Door.

Sumbanese women are not only skilled in carrying out important roles within the household but also work tirelessly for the family’s economic well-being. This can be clearly seen in the agriculture sector, which serves as the primary livelihood for the people of Sumba, especially Southwest Sumba.

Supporting Agricultural Livelihoods for Women Farmers

While the women farmers of Southwest Sumba have long followed traditional growing techniques, many are now seeing the possibilities brought by improved farming methods. Change began to take place for the members of the Suka Maju Women Farmer Group (KWT Suka Maju) when they joined the Agriculture Livelihood Project (Penguatan Mata Pencaharian Pertanian, or PERMATA) implemented by East-West Seed Knowledge Transfer Foundation’s sister organization, Yayasan Bina Tani Sejahtera (YBTS).

Supported by the William & Lily Foundation, the PERMATA program (2021–2023) aimed to improve farmer groups’ access to agricultural livelihood options in Southwest Sumba regency. To achieve this goal, the program advanced better farm management through training for farmers, along with increased farmer access to markets and financing, consistent support for agriculture from government and other stakeholders, and improved nutrition for farming families. KWT Suka Maju is one of the many farmer groups that benefited from the PERMATA program.

KWT Suka Maju’s leader, Mama Elin, actively encouraged the group’s members to learn together with YBTS and government Field Agricultural Extension Officers. Beginning in October 2021, the group participated in various training sessions, including seed selection and seedling cultivation, fertilization and integrated pest management, good agricultural practices, good handling practices, good business management practices, conservation, mentoring, and hands-on practice in tomato demonstration plots. They also received training on gender-related topics.

Members of the Suka Maju Women Farmer Group engaged in making leaf pots for seedlings.
KWT Suka Maju members prepare leaf pot containers for growing seedlings.

Rising Yields and Farm Expansion

Gradually, the women of KWT Suka Maju began to view agricultural production not only as a means to meet personal food consumption but also as a source of income. Mama Elin was motivated to improve the group’s tomato cultivation yields, and she encouraged all group members to actively participate in YBTS’s training sessions.

Armed with the knowledge they had gained, KWT Suka Maju achieved very satisfying results from their first tomato harvest in 2022, totaling 10,000,000 Indonesian rupiahs in a single harvest. With this success, Mama Elin and the group members began to independently expand their farming efforts on their respective lands. Moreover, the group’s tomato harvest showed an increase in November 2022, reaching 12,000,000 rupiahs. With the higher income from the harvest, KWT Suka Maju was able to build a water reservoir to support their daily water needs and agricultural requirements.

In early January 2023, Mama Elin transplanted 1,000 tomato plants on her own land. The proceeds from the tomato harvest in early 2023 were allocated to cover the college entrance expenses for her eldest child. It is significant results like this that continue to motivate Mama Elin and the other members of KWT Suka Maju to diligently cultivate their farmlands using the new methods they have learned.

Fruiting tomato plants grown by Suka Maju Women Farmer Group.
Fruiting tomato plants grown by KWT Suka Maju.

Ginger Juice and Planning for a Sustainable Future

KWT Suka Maju, which was established in 2009 to empower women and contribute to the economic growth of their families, is not only focused on increasing horticultural production. The group also innovates in processing agricultural products such as ginger juice and sweet potato chips. The PERMATA program includes food processing training for farmers, and the group members began to realize that additional income could be generated by selling marketable products made from their crops.

KWT Suka Maju is also committed to providing education to the younger generation, especially young female farmers, to learn about horticultural cultivation techniques and agricultural processing for the sustainability of their livelihoods and family needs.

Thanks to the dedication and self-reliance demonstrated by the women of KWT Suka Maju, the Southwest Sumba Agriculture Department provided a grant of 90,000,000 rupiahs to the group in 2023 for Sustainable Food Gardens (Pekarangan Pangan Lestari) activities. This funding is intended to support the seed and agricultural equipment needs of KWT Suka Maju. For their next steps, the group members also hope to establish a vegetable-selling cooperative that can serve the community in Kabalidana Village and surrounding areas.

“Ama Padewama, Ina Paurrama”

The innovations and initiatives carried out by KWT Suka Maju are built on the foundation provided by YBTS through the PERMATA program over the past two years. The success story of KWT Suka Maju and Mama Elin is also evidence that female farmer groups in Southwest Sumba have strong determination and a fighting spirit to advance the agricultural sector. This aligns with one of the philosophies of the Southwest Sumba community: “Ama padewama, ina paurrama,” meaning “Father who protects, mother who nurtures.” The female farmers have demonstrated their success in nurturing and making the best use of the land’s produce.