Mon, 29 Aug 1994

Boosting development of less developed villages

The government is allocating a special budget, beginning this fiscal year, to improve the livelihood of villagers in less developed regions. The budget is expected to cover a period of three years in the current planning.

By Sjamsoe'oed Sadjad

JAKARTA (JP): Statistics have revealed that the number of less developed villages is large. No fewer than 20 million people still need our commitment to help them, at least materially. Needless to say, infrastructure in these hypo-developed villages is less than adequate, usually very far behind the infrastructure of developed centers. The level of education in these villages is far below the national average, and we can expect that their daily food intake is very low in nutritional value.

Fortunately, in these hypo-developed villages there are some sociological potential factors that we can take advantage of in order to accelerate the development process. First, the people in these villages have a very high level of solidarity. Second, the bond between husband and wife is generally very strong. Third, the religious base is more stable and fourth, the villages are uniform in that most homes have a yard.

Traditionally, women play key roles. They skillfully handle all household chores, home economic activities, horticulture, animal husbandry, and marketing of all their products.

Women have such a crucial role in determining the nutritional quality of food for their families, especially for their children, that a nutrition improvement campaign can only succeed if it was positively responded to by them. In addition, teaching proper eating habits hinges on women as well.

Village women consume tremendous amounts of time and energy performing daily tasks because of, among others, the low level of technology available. Working in the kitchen, cultivating the yard and going to the market take up at least ten hours a day. If such patterns are maintained, how can their lives be made more efficient? Under these circumstances it would be impossible to accelerate development in these villages. It is not possible to turn them into industry oriented villages.

My solution is primarily a sociological approach involving women. In my opinion, there is no village woman whose main concern is not the health of her family. What we can do to help, is teach them about food qualities and proper eating habits so that they know how to better feed their family.

Women should also be encouraged to play a more active role in home based industries, such as food, handicrafts and traditional herbs, the raw materials of which can be obtained easily from local sources. Their yards can be made more valuable if agronomically cultivated, particularly if they are taught to cultivate valuable plants such as vegetables, herbs and fibers. Efforts based on home industries will be more likely accepted and successful than efforts to turn them into subsistent villages.

The main problem is then the creation of a market for village based industry. However, with a little goodwill from more established industries and a national commitment, this problem can be solved easily.

Another effort, that should be made, involves modification of eating habits through education. The classification of food into main dish and side dishes should be abandoned. Eating should be viewed more as a balanced intake of carbohydrates, proteins, fat, minerals and vitamins, all of which can be consumed together and rationally--not in the form of main dish and side dishes that we are so accustomed to.

Based on this type of menu, we can eat cassava, corn and other sources of carbohydrates instead of rice. They can be consumed apart from the side dishes, which is our source of protein. For protein we can eat tofu, tempe (fermented soybean cake) and other things. The fat component can be derived from soybean or coconut products. Vitamins and minerals can be obtained from vegetables that we no longer eat along with rice. All of these are consumed apart from the carbohydrate components.

The new eating pattern should be taught to young children. The program will have more chance of success if it is made a part of elementary education.

Bringing the hypo-developed villages to a higher level of prosperity will require a multidisciplinary approach. I hope such an approach will be followed with this fiscal year's allocated budget for the alleviation of poverty.

The writer is a professor at the Bogor Institute of Agriculture.