Subject: West Timor farmers fighting climate change, severe malnutrition

Source: <> Church World Service (CWS)

Date: 16 Oct 2008

World Food Day: West Timor farmers fighting climate change, severe malnutrition

JAKARTA, INDONESIA ­ Thursday October 16, 2008 ­ Today, on World Food Day, family farmers in Indonesia's West Timor region know two things about the current food crisis: One, the roots of their food security are being drowned­or parched, depending on the vagaries of weather­by climate change. Two, their children are on the receiving end.

The result, along with other complex factors including a world food crisis and a need for more maternal education, has been an alarming rise in malnutrition among infants and small children. About six out of ten of West Timor's children under five are suffering chronic malnutrition and other regions of Indonesia are suffering from malnutrition as well.

West Timor's farmers are also in desperate need to find ways of growing nutritious crops that also stand up to the vagaries of changing weather patterns.

But after struggling for two decades with weather unpredictabilities, some of West Timor's poor rural farmers are successfully planting and harvesting diverse crops that better serve their families' nutrition needs, even in the face of climate change challenges.

"Before, they always knew they had to start planting crops in October or November, and that the rain would fall in another four months," says Conrad Maryanan, a CWS assistant program manager in West Timor.

"Their indicator to plant was having rainfall for several consecutive days. They'd say, 'Okay, this is the rainy season. It's time to plant.' Now, the rain falls for two or three days, stops for maybe another month or two, and then it falls again. During the dry season, it will be very dry. And during the rainy season, the rain is so intense it causes flooding and landslides," causing crops to wither or drown or both, according to Maryanan.

Maryanan said as recently as 1994 farmers could get enough food from a harvest to last until the next harvest season. But negative effects of climate change on crops became more and more apparent, starting in 1997. Traditional agricultural practices like using fires to clear farmlands further degraded the soil.

Through intensive agricultural training, Church World Service has been able to encourage farmers to abandon slash and burn practices in favor of sustainable agricultural measures, such as terracing techniques, organic composting to replenish the stressed land, improved irrigation and drainage techniques, seed strains more adapted to the conditions, and crop diversification.

Nutritionist Julia Suryantan, interim associate director for Church World Service Indonesia, said smaller harvests mean families run out of food in September and October and have to switch to eating less nutritious food.

"Our program has introduced them to homestead food production and use of more of the food resources around them, such as a native vegetable that they were familiar with but didn't know was edible, but are now cooking for their children."

New and modified recipes and adding ingredients to increase nutrient values have also been introduced to the community.

Successful climate-managed small-scale agriculture is about more than "just this season's crops and getting a family through seasonal lean months," said CWS' Maryanan. "Food security means livelihood security."

Toward that end, CWS also is helping the West Timor farmers enhance each others' efforts by forming cooperatives. "When there's more than enough harvest of particular crops for families' needs, they sell the extra and that money can be used to buy other food items," Maryanan said.

West Timor, in the Nusa Tenggara Timur province, (NTT or East Nusa Tenggara) on the Indonesian portion of the island of Timor, has about two million inhabitants, significant underemployment and income levels about one-third the national average. Indonesians overall spend at least 50 percent of their income on food, as compared to the poorest families in the U.S. who spend 16 percent on food.

Interrelated solutions to complex problems

CWS Deputy Director of Programs Maurice Bloem calls the solutions to hunger and malnutrition in Indonesia--and other similarly challenged countries--"complex and interrelated." Bloem previously was director of the agency's Indonesia operations for eight years, including post-tsunami recovery.

"There's no one answer. But some answers must begin now, to prevent future climate-impacted crop failures. And some answers must come urgently­to help malnourished infants and toddlers who may suffer developmental deficits or worse."

CWS is addressing that urgency through its partnership with the H. J. Heinz Company Foundation to help alleviate severe malnutrition in children under five by providing Heinz brand Vitalita ™ multi-vitamin and mineral supplements through government-operated health centers and posyandu health posts in recently identified areas where alarming rates of small child malnutrition have been identified.

The areas include the Timor Tengah Selatan (TTS) district of West Timor, on remote Nias Island in North Sumatra Province, and in an urban slum area of Makassar City in South Sulawesi Province, Sulawesi Island,. The effort expands on the Heinz Foundation's micronutrient campaign in Indonesia and worldwide.

The World Health Organization predicts that by 2030 climate change will cause a 10 percent increase in the number of malnutrition cases worldwide. (WHO also estimates that warming and precipitation trends from human-caused climate change currently kill more than 160,000 people each year.

Bloem warns that challenges to food production caused by climate change are putting Indonesia and other affected places in danger of greater hunger and malnutrition resulting in "a lost generation" of children--but that some farmers are taking advantage of ways to fight back.

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