Thu, 28 Aug 2003

Drought forces villagers to eat cassava

Oyos Saroso HN, The Jakarta Post, Lampung province

Many thousands of people from Lampung have been forced to start eating cassava as the drought continues its stranglehold over the impoverished province.

Hambali, a 46-year-old farmer from Sendangrejo village in Central Lampung regency, says his family had run out of rice due to crop failures.

"We are forced to eat tiwul (cassava-based food) that is cooked with little rice. One kilogram of tiwul can be mixed with a small portion of rice. That's enough to feed four people," he said.

In previous dry seasons, Hambali's family and his neighbors also consumed tiwul as their staple food. "Since the economic crisis in 1997 we have been eating cassava. It is only during the harvest season that we eat rice."

Rice is not much more expensive that tiwul. "Rice is sold for Rp 2,700 (U.S.30 cents) per kilogram, while tiwul is only Rp 1,400 per kilogram. But under the current difficulties, we are forced to choose tiwul."

Around 80 percent of the 800 families in Sendangrejo have to eat cassava and corn as they can no longer afford rice.

Rusman, 73, a migrant resident in Sendangrejo, said that before 1998 he only had to eat tiwul two months of each year at the most. But since 1998, they had had to eat it all year round. The current drought had added to their suffering.

Worse still, tiwul was now increasingly hard to find in traditional markets as cassava had been similarly effected by the drought, another villager Ismanto said.

Sawito's family, who live in Roworejo village, Gedongtataan subdistrict, South Lampung regency, had also switched to cassava as their harvest only kept them in rice for one month.

"After being cut to repay fertilizer debts, the total amount of my net profit (from farming) is only Rp 300,000 this year. Even some of this money has been used to buy fertilizer for the next planting season," Suwito said.

Tiwul is also consumed in the neighboring villages of Kotabaru, Umbul Klenong and Grujukan. "It's no problem. The important thing is that our children can still go to school," he added.

In East Lampung regency, cassava is being eaten by residents from the subdistricts of Brajaselebah, Brajamukti, Purbolinggo and Way Bungur.

Even many village heads from Brajaselebah have left their villages to join other local residents in serving as pedicab drivers or construction workers in downtown Bandarlampung, the capital city of Lampung.

"If we continue to stay here, there is nothing we can hope for because we don't have anything to harvest. It's better for my husband to go to the city for work," said Lasiyah, 37, from Brajaselebah, who also eats tiwul on a daily basis.

Her 60-year-old father Juminto said that being a construction worker in the city was the only way for male residents in his village to make a living for their families.

"In our village, crop failures often occur not only because of flooding and drought, but also because of elephant attacks," Juminto said.

The Jakarta Post observed that tiwul is also consumed by residents in at least nine villages across Sendang Agung subdistrict, including Sendangrejo.

Jauhari Zailani, a social observer at the Lampung Media Center (LMC), said the increasing number of people in the province being forced to eat cassava showed that the local administration lacked a "sense of crisis" and "mature plans" to tackle the impact of the prolonged dry season.

"The Lampung government always claims that villagers here are already accustomed to tiwul consumption. But in fact, they are forced to do so because they can't afford to buy rice," he said.

Secretary of the Lampung administration Idrus Djaendar Muda said his office had launched an assistance program to fight poverty in 2002, involving around Rp 11 billion.

Another move was the Subdistrict Development Program (PPK) sponsored by the World Bank, under which dozens of subdistricts in Lampung receive loans of Rp 1 billion each, he said, adding that the money was to be distributed to poor villages.

However, Ali Kabul Mahi, a professor from the University of Lampung who chairs the province's poverty monitoring team, said the funds frequently missed their intended target.

The programs also have "no clear indicators", prompting many agencies tasked with the antipoverty drive to apparently work without coordination, he said.

Data from the provincial administration shows that in 2002 the poverty rate in Lampung was 2,381,585 people or 476,317 families of its total population of 6.8 million people, making it the poorest province on Sumatra island.