Farmers struggle as rains stay away

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Djemi Amnifu, The Jakarta Post, Kupang | Archipelago | Sat, February 20 2016, 9:02 AM

For the past several weeks, Amos Talan, a resident of Kualin district in South Timor Tengah (TTS) regency, East Nusa Tenggara (NTT), has started his day by praying that rain would fall over his village.

The 46-year-old farmer, who makes a living by growing corn on his one-hectare farm, normally starts planting in December, but the absence of rain over the past couple of months has prevented him from doing so.

“Some villagers started planting in late December but their crop soon died because there was no rain,” he told The Jakarta Post on Friday.

Amos’ village, located some 120 kilometers east of the provincial capital of Kupang, however, is not the only place in NTT where farmers are struggling to make ends meet due to the prolonged dry season.

While many parts of the archipelago saw the arrival of the rainy season in December, hundreds of villages in NTT have not seen rain over the past several months, forcing farmers in one of the country’s poorest provinces to miss their planting season this year.

In TTS alone, at least 115 villages in 15 districts have been struggling with drought, regent Paul Mella said.

Among the affected districts are Bena, Kualin, Tuapakas, Kot’olin, Kolbano, Se’i and South Amanuban.

“Based on reports from district heads, rain only fell once in December with very low intensity. After that, the dry weather continued,” Paul said, blaming the situation on the El Niño weather phenomenon.

The latest data also showed that some 40 percent of the regency’s 78,000 ha of cornfield had experienced severe drought, making it impossible for farmers to grow anything in the near future.

Although some farmers have seen low-intensity rainfall and have planted their crops, their chance of experiencing harvest failure is still very high, Paul said.

“Harvest yields in many cornfields have recently dropped by 50 percent compared to yields in normal conditions,” he said.

Corn requires between 60 and 100 days before it can be harvested depending on the variety of the corn. It is one of main staple foods in NTT and serves as an alternative to rice.

NTT farmers can grow corn at least twice a year during the wet season, which normally falls from October to March in Indonesia.

Last month, East Flores regent Yoseph Lagadoni Herin also shared similar anxieties.

Yoseph said only 10 out of 250 villages in the regency still had the chance to deliver a proper harvest due to the long absence of rain in his region.

“I have visited a number of villages over the past few weeks,” he said as quoted by Antara news agency.

“Crops are not growing properly and the corn has also turned yellowish due to extremely low rainfall.”

NTT, home to 5.3 million people, requires approximately 300,000 tons of rice per year for local consumption.

Last month, the NTT branch of the State Logistics Agency (Bulog) claimed that they had 46,000 tons of rice in storage.

In anticipation of a food crisis, Paul said his administration would distribute logistical aid to help farmers who experienced harvest failure.

“We have also been distributing seeds of drought-resistant plants, like tubers and palawija [secondary crops],” he said.