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Indonesian farmers in limbo as drought kills livestock

Church official says region needs to modernize farming techniques
Indonesian farmers in limbo as drought kills livestock

Emaciated horses graze on parched, barren land on Indonesia's Flores island, where a severe drought has been killing off livestock for the past six months. (Photo by Markus Makur)

Published: January 20, 2016 08:28 AM GMT
Updated: January 20, 2016 08:44 AM GMT

Wearing a rosary around his neck, Antonius Tandang, a villager in Lekolembo in East Manggarai district on the western part of Indonesia's Flores island, began to unfold a story of how drought has killed off the village's livestock.

At least 600 buffalos, cows and horses died late last year placing a strain on the 187 village families who depend on cattle raising for their livelihood.

Tandang, 59, told ucanews.com, at his small wooden home in East Nusa Tenggara province that the drought, which began about six months ago, has killed 26 of his cattle.

"This is tragic, because those who died are the mothers and it's difficult to get new breeds," he said.

Tandang began working with livestock decades ago after graduating primary school. He's now worried about the rest of his cattle and the future of his school-aged children.

"I don't know what to do next," he said. In the past, he supported his family by selling livestock to local markets and to business people from South Sulawesi province.

He said that a buffalo is priced at 10-12 million rupiah (about US$800), a cow 5-7 million rupiah (US$400) and a horse 3-4 million rupiahs (US$250).

"Life has turned into nightmare for us," he said as he has no other source of income.

According to a government report, more than 300 villages in 18 districts across East Nusa Tenggara province were severely hit by the effects of the latest El Nino phenomenon. The rainy season normally runs from October to April. But by January, many parts of the province were still experiencing drought.

Markus Bana, a 76-year-old farmer, said the drought has nearly wiped out his entire herd of 31. "I have only one left now," he told ucanews.com

Bana recalled a similar drought that occurred 43 years ago where many animals died, but the region recovered quickly as there was still pockets of water. "Now, there is no water at all," he said.

Silvester Doni, a community leader, said most villagers have yet to receive any assistance from the local government.

"I have met local government officials and reported about the death of animals. But there was no solution offered," he said. At the moment, many families are trying to transport their remaining livestock to neighboring Ngada district in the hope that they can survive until the next rainfall.

However, Andreas Agas, East Manggarai district deputy district head, said local animal and agricultural officials have been visiting farmlands in an attempt to gather more accurate data.

"The government is looking at the best ways to help people," said Agas.

A farmer feeds a buffalo rescued from the heat of the Mausui savanna on Indonesia's Flores island, where a months long drought has killed off hundreds of livestock. (Photo by Markus Makur)


Church response

Father Hieronimus Jelahu of St. Arnold Church in Waelengga, who ministers to the farmers, said Rutend Diocese has been providing temporary assistance to stricken farmers.

He also said that most villagers raise cattle in the traditional way — allowing cattle to roam freely on the grasslands. It was time to shift to a more professional way of managing livestock, he said.

"It's also time to teach them not to waste money from trading animals, but secure them [in banks] for a sustainable life," Father Jelahu told ucanews.com

He said the diocese is preparing a course on how to raise farm animals properly, in order to slowly detach from grazing on wild grass in the savanna.

Father Benediktus Jaya, the diocesan head of social and economic development, said the diocese cannot afford to compensate farmers for the livestock deaths, but will provide pigs and goats.

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