Tanah Sumba, often referred to as Tanah Humba, is an island that is not only rich in natural resources, but is also an area whose population still adheres closely to traditional customs. The original people of Sumba embrace the Marapu, which is not only a traditional religion, but also a way of life that regulates people’s lives, including the livelihoods and roles of men and women. In Sumbanese culture, women have an important role and are even reflected in cultural symbols. One interesting example is when the Marapu people build a house, the first pillar built is called the Pari’i Rabuka or “Women’s Pillar.” The pillar stands opposite the “Women’s Door.” The architectural philosophy in building this house is closely related to the strategic function played by women in the household and how Marapu views the role of women in community life. Women play an important role and are the mainstay of the family and society. Sumbanese women are not only skilled in carrying out important roles in the household, but also in always working hard for the family economy. This is also reflected in the agricultural sector, which is the main livelihood of the people in Sumba, especially Southwest Sumba.
As many as 85% of people in Sumba have worked as farmers for generations. According to data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS) in 2018, as many as 8,800 women worked as farmers in Southwest Sumba. These women farmers are members of the Women’s Farmer Groups (KWT), which organized themselves in managing agricultural lands. One of them is KWT Suka Maju, which is located in Kabalidana Village, Wewewa Barat Sub District. Chaired by Mama Kornalia Wasti Bouka, often known as Mama Elin, KWT has had 30 female farmers as members since 2009. So far, KWT Suka Maju has only grown tomatoes independently and has not made satisfactory results. This is due to the limited knowledge about vegetable cultivation and the lack of training received by KWT members. Another obstacle arises because the majority of farming households in Southwest Sumba are still in a subsistence position, which means that the orientation of agricultural production is still aimed at meeting their own consumption. This is characterized by the society’s habit, which structurally only carries out small businesses in order to survive. Farmers are still culturally reluctant to take risks to overcome subsistence problems. Efforts to survive like this are closely related to the condition of people who live on the poverty line because they worry about food shortages for their families.
Changes began to occur when KWT Suka Maju joined the Agricultural Livelihood Strengthening Program (PERMATA) implemented by the Bina Tani Sejahtera Foundation (YBTS) and supported by the William & Lily Foundation. Mama Elin actively invites the KWT members she leads to study with YBTS and Field Agricultural Instructors (PPL). These women began to participate in various trainings on seed selection and seeding, fertilization and integrated pest and disease control, Good Agriculture Practice (GAP), Good Handling Practice (GHP), Good Management Practices (GMP), conservation, mentoring and direct practice in tomato demonstration plot gardens, to training on gender issues. Slowly but surely, the members of KWT Suka Maju began to view agricultural production as not only limited to fulfilling personal food consumption but also earning income. Armed with the knowledge she had gained, Mama Elin was moved to increase the yield of tomato cultivation and encouraged all group members to always attend training.
KWT Suka Maju received highly satisfying results from the first tomato harvest in 2022, at the value of IDR 10,000,000 in one harvest. With this result, Mama Elin and the group members began to develop farming independently on the land of each KWT member. Indeed, the tomato harvest yield shows an increase in November 2022 to IDR 12,000,000. With the increase in harvest income, Mama Elin succeeded in building a storage tank to provide water for daily needs and for agricultural lands. In early January 2023, Mama Elin transplanted 1000 tomato seedlings. The proceeds from the tomato harvest in early 2023 are allocated for college entrance fees for her eldest child. Such significant changes are what make Mama Elin and the women members of KWT Suka Maju continue to work on their agricultural land.
Not only focused on increasing horticultural production, the women’s farmer group founded in 2009 also makes the innovation of processing agricultural products such as making ginger juice drink and sweet potato chips. Mama Elin and KWT members began to realize the added value generated from selling processed agricultural products so that it could help the family’s economy. KWT Suka Maju is also committed to providing education to the younger generation, especially young female farmers, to learn about horticultural cultivation techniques and processing of agricultural products for the sake of sustainable livelihoods and meeting family needs. Thanks to the perseverance and independence shown by the women of KWT Suka Maju, in 2023 the Southwest Sumba Agriculture Service in 2023 provided financial assistance for Sustainable Food Yard (P2L) activities amounting to IDR 90,000,000. The financial assistance aimed to support the need for seeds and agricultural production facilities for KWT Suka Maju. For the next step, the members of KWT Suka Maju hoped that one day they would be able to build a cooperative able to serve the people of Kabalidana Village and its surroundings.
The innovations and initiatives carried out by KWT Suka Maju are of course inseparable from the assistance that YBTS has provided through the PERMATA program over the last two years. KWT Suka Maju is one of dozens of farmer groups assisted by the PERMATA program in Southwest Sumba. The PERMATA program aims to increase farmer groups’ access to agricultural livelihood potential in Southwest Sumba District. To achieve this goal, this program has six expected outcomes, one of which is “farmer groups implementing better agricultural business management.” The success story of KWT Suka Maju, led by Mama Elin, is proof that the women’s farmer group in Southwest Sumba has a fighting spirit and strong determination in advancing the agricultural sector. This is of course in line with one of the philosophies of the people of Southwest Sumba, especially in the Wewewa area, namely Ama Padewama, Ina Paurrama, which means “Father who protects, mother who nurtures.” Women farmers have demonstrated their success in caring for and making the best use of their crops.
Writer: Petrus Aprido Roberto Faot (YBTS) and Mariska Estelita (WLF).