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Women in Tanimbar, Maluku, refuse to be financially dependent. By working together in groups, they help raise and feed their families.

WOMEN in Tanimbar are of an independent spirit. It’s taboo for them to sit idly by while their husbands are hard at work to feed the families. Lodowina Takendekut is one of these women. After preparing the family’s meals, Lodowina would go straight to the farm located not far from home. Daily she would spend much of her time on the 150squaremeter farm growing onions and groundnuts.

The first harvest was very encouraging, producing 60 kilograms of onions. Each kilogram sold for Rp150,000 on the market. It means that Lodowina took home Rp9 million in income from the first harvest. It was a big income for Lodowina. Since she joined a farm group called Lolorain, Lodowina has learned better farming methods. She found out that she could plant not only groundnuts but also onions on her farm.

“The last groundnut harvest was disappointing because of plant disease,” said Lodowina. Now she focuses on onions, although she still grows groundnuts.

Although two members of her group resigned, Lodowina and seven others remained. Last week they agreed to set aside a portion of their income into a group fund.

Lodowina and her fellow members have decided to form a loan and savings cooperative so that they won’t have to rely any longer on capital assistance from Yayasan Sor Silai, an Oxfam GB partner, which has been facilitating the group’s development. The idea of forming a cooperative has also been expressed by Griffina Siyompuai, a seaweed farmer determined to release womenfolk and her group of seaweed farmers in the village from dependence on outsiders for assistance.

“We had the group formed last year, but we realized then that we couldn’t continue relying on others for assistance,” she said. “We must be independent and the only way to be so is for us to form a cooperative.”

Before receiving assistance from Yayasan Sor Silai, Griffina had worked on farming on a plot of land just outside her house. Early this year she began raising seaweed with the seeds, ropes and other necessary materials provided by Yayasan Sor Silai.

Griffina has since had two seaweed harvests. The first harvest produced six gunny bags of wet seaweed, the second five bags. After drying, the volume reduced to an average of two gunny bags. Traders in Saumlaki buy the dried seaweed for Rp100,000. One kilo of dried seaweed sells for Rp5,000. Harvesting takes place about 45 days after planting. Griffina produces 30 kilos of seaweed a harvest, generating Rp150,000 in income, enough to make her optimistic of the future of seaweed growing.

Veronica Kelbulan, a 20 year old seaweed farmer, feels the same way. That afternoon she and her husband Amus didn’t mind sweating in the sun. It was the day of the first harvest of their seaweed farm. Veronica joined her group of seaweed farmers only recently to earn additional income. As a small fishing family living on a small income, her decision to join the group was enthusiastically supported by her husband. She heard from fishermen’s wives who had already joined the group that seaweed farming was not a difficult vocation.

Seaweed seed and other necessary material for seaweed farming were provided by Yayasan Sor Silai which also trained members of the group on good farming methods.

“It’s easy work for women,” said Amus. “Every time I go to the sea, I always take time to see our seaweed farm and clean the ropes of anything that attaches to them.”

Amus and Veronica plan to use proceeds from the sales of their seaweed to buy a bigger boat with a bigger engine of their own. The boat they use now is rented from its owner. Amus himself is a member of a fishermen’s group. With savings collected from members, the group aims not only to have every member with his own boat, but also rent out surplus boats to other fishermen. Proceeds from the rentals would add to the group’s savings fund.

Not only fishermen of productive years are enthusiastic. Yustina Batumuleng, a 51yearold, refused to just stay home. Although all her children had grown up, she decided to live on her own, not relying on them for a living. Old age makes Yustina eager to live and work. Daily, after a clothweaving routine, she would go to the farm and inspect 250 banana trees which he planted on the land in 2006. The seedlings were provided by Yayasan Sor Silai.

Each week Yustina would sell her bananas to buyers on a market nearer to home. “I don’t have to go to other villages because most of the buyers are from my own village,” she said smiling. Each hand of bananas sells for Rp35,000 and each bunch between Rp3,000 and Rp5,000.

Last year at the urging of Yayasan Sor Silai, Yustina also grew cassava roots, green peas, and other plants in between the bananas to generate even more income. At the same time Yustina also continued to earn from cloth weaving. “Cloth weaving is my principal work, farming is only a side activity to spend idle hours,” said Yustina.

Yustina produces various woven cloth, including sarong, long fabrics, and shawls. A long fabric sells from Rp100,000 to Rp300,000 apiece. A shawl is cheaper as it doesn’t require much material, work and time. Yustina is assisted by a woman six years older and who is happy with her work.

Since 2006, Paulina has had several banana harvests, saving portions of her income. She and other members of her group have decided to form a cooperative with the initial capital drawn from their savings. The cooperative aims to manage the fund and help members market their produce.

Oxfam GB/Muhary
TEMPO ENGLISH MAGAZINE, No. 46/IX/July 14-20, 2009