Local empowerment with native crops amidst the pandemic

A training to produce sorghum derivative products conducted by Yayasan Pembangunan Sosial Ekonomi (Yaspensel) Larantuka has helped two women from East Flores regency, East Nusa Tenggara to make new creation using locally available crops and multiply their income.

Maria Peni Baon, known as Mama Marni to her friends, had seen her income from selling sorghum cakes decreased dramatically as the purchasing power of people in East Flores weakened in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic hit, Mama Marni, who lives in Mudakeputu village, Ile Mandiri district, East Nusa Tenggara, could earn up to IDR 400,000 monthly from her business.

The difficulty in continuing her business motivated the 47-year-old woman to join a training about sorghum derivative products and food security held by Yaspensel Larantuka on 13 August 2021. After the training, she started to produce various sorghum-based products including kolak (compote), kleso (packed sorghum in coconut milk), cucur (a sweet cake), and donut.

“I like to cook; I will try to create any recipes as long as I have the ingredients”

said Mama Marni

This training was a part of the Employment and Livelihood project, jointly coordinated by ILO and three other United Nations (UN) agencies in Indonesia. The project was funded by the UN COVID-19 Response and Recovery Multi-Partner Trust Fund (UN MPTF).

Initially, Mama Marni did not see any meaningful increase in her income after the training. She began receiving more orders when the Mudakeputu community health centre (Puskesmas) saw the potential for her business in supporting a regional policy to prevent and handle cases of stunting among children by providing meals from locally available or native crops such as sorghum, maize, mung beans, moringa leaves, and local fruits.

While East Nusa Tenggara has been recording notable improvement in reducing the rate of stunting, it remains as one of the provinces with the highest stunting level in Indonesia. According to data from Indonesia’s Coordinating Ministry for Human Development and Cultural Affairs, the prevalence of stunting in East Nusa Tenggara stood at 28.2 percent in 2020, lower than 35.4 percent in 2018 but still above the standards for malnutrition set by the WHO at 20 percent. The Government of Indonesia has set a target to decrease national stunting rate to 14 percent by 2024.

“With this training on sorghum derivative products and food security, ILO hopes that we can contribute to boost the quality of life of people in East Flores, in terms of livelihood as well as health condition which includes improved nutrition for mothers and children,” said Navitri Putri Guillaume, ILO’s National Project Officer in Jakarta.

The trust given by Puskesmas Mudakeputu to Mama Marni for her sorghum-based food products has piqued the interest of other community members. She said she has been receiving orders to provide sorghum-based meals for various events in the village ever since.

Mama Marni said her income is now eight times higher, reaching IDR 3.2 million a month. She did not stop at herself and has encouraged other women in Mudakeputu to sell similar food products, hoping that she would receive an assistance in procuring a sorghum milling machine so that she does not have to go to the market to mill her sorghum into flour.

A similar experience was told by Maria Suhartini, or known as Mama Tini. Lower income from selling cake and catering orders during the pandemic encouraged her to participate in a similar Yaspensel training in Kawalelo village, Demon Pagong sub-district, East Nusa Tenggara, at the end of October 2021.

“It was difficult to get any order [for catering] while there was a social restriction being imposed”

said Mama Tini

After joining the training, Mama Marni attempted to sell sorghum-based cakes but saw no significant increase in her income. She tried to process the remaining sorghum flour into instant cereal and sorghum mocca beverage and distribute them to nearby shops.

She was surprised to see a high demand for sorghum cereal. Currently, Mama Tini can sell up to 20 bags of cereals per day. She is now in the process of obtaining a certificate as a household food producer. “We have to be persistent in order to succeed; a low sales performance is not a reason for me to give up,” said Mama Tini.