Updated: February 08, 2019 04:37 AM GMT
Yustina Jari is pictured at the 3-hectare sorghum farm she manages together with her husband, Yakobus Doni, in Kimakamak village of Larantuka Diocese in Indonesia's Flores Island. (Photo by Melkhior Koli Baran/ucanews.com)
It took years of farming before Yustina Jari discovered that planting sorghum in a drought-stricken part of her native Flores Island could help improve the local economy and provide much-needed nutrition for children.
She got excited about the benefits of the grain when the Research and Social Development Foundation, a local organization run by lay Catholics, and Oxfam Indonesia introduced it in 2016 as one of the top staples for this arid region.
That built on efforts begun two years earlier when Larantuka Diocese, where Jari's village is located, started encouraging Catholics to experiment by planting sorghum.
"We were told it was perfect for this kind of environment and climate," she said. "It's a great source of food energy that can prevent malnutrition."
Malnutrition is a huge problem in the poorest regions of Indonesia, reportedly affecting millions of children.
While Jari's village lacks records of diet-related health problems, the sub-district of West Adonara in which she lives has registered more than 2,000 children with stunted growth in recent years, she told ucanews.com.
But thanks to the pioneering efforts of Jari and her husband, Yakobus Doni, on their 3-hectare farm in Kimakamak village of Larantuka Diocese, malnutrition and stunted growth have effectively been banished, she claims.
The couple joined 30 other farmers in switching from corn and cassava to sorghum, which Jari said was formerly grown by older generations but later discouraged during the rule of late dictator Suharto.
The challenge was to make sorghum a "child-friendly food," she recalls, adding that she started by making snacks using sorghum flour mixed with millet and green beans
After a team from her diocese trained her and other women in how to properly cultivate and produce the grain, Jari bought a grinding tool from a neighboring village to grind the sorghum beans, millet and green beans.
She now makes porridge, cereals, ice cream and beverages from those raw materials, and offers them to a local clinic as an alternative choice to help ensure children are well-nourished.
"I do this to convince people sorghum can, without a doubt, become something the kids will love," she said.
Now one of her goals is to raise awareness of how growing consumption of the instant foods provided by big manufacturers will end up further marginalizing farmers, gradually leaving them jobless.
Kamaria Kewa Lamanele, director of the health division in East Flores district, said sorghum had become an official staple for children in the region as of 2019.
The district head said he issued a regulation in 2017 to endorse the use of local products like sorghum.
"We appreciate farmers like Yustina Jari who have been working tirelessly work to grow and promote local crops," he said.
Fransiska Wain, a community health official in the same district, said the government expects to see more efforts realized soon to eliminate poor diets and their hazardous health effects.
For her unceasing efforts, Jari was among eight women in 2018 added to Oxfam Indonesia's list of "food heroes." The awards were handed out on Dec.15.
"That award is not just for me, but for all the women in my village who are concerned about food and the health of future generations," she said.
Her next task is to motivate women in other villages to cultivate local crops, particularly sorghum, millet and green beans.
"The diocese told us to keep inspiring other villagers," she said.
"These crops are amazing because they can survive in our arid land," she said, adding she has been distributing seeds for free to people in nearby villages.
"We want to help others to improve their income and their children's diets," Doni said.
According to Hendrikus Eko, head of Kimakamak village, the Ministry of Agriculture will help by providing sorghum farmers with more grinding machines.
As of now, Jari is moving to establish a small enterprise with other women in her village to produce more sorghum-based products that will be marketed to other areas.