I have farmed forever

May 14, 2012
June, 2005

How quality protein maize is changing lives in one Indonesian village.

“I have farmed forever,” says Yasam Saanim. He works the steep slopes of the mountainous land near the village of Carin on the Indonesian island of Java. From childhood his life has been one of hard labor with little reward. He and his wife struggled to raise seven children on their tiny piece of rented land. With no money of his own Yasam has to borrow from the landowner every year to buy fertilizer for his third of a hectare of rice. He also grows a few bananas, cassava, sweet potatoes, and durian, a pungent Southeast Asian delicacy. In return he pays the landowner 180 kg of rice at harvest. He does not think it is a fair deal but says he has no choice. The family survives but Yasam has never had money. It has been that way all his life.

Now, at the age of seventy, he finally sees some light in the seemingly endless tunnel of hopelessness that has been his lot as a tenant farmer.

The landowner has decided to plant maize—in particular, quality protein maize—on 1.2 hectares of land adjacent to Yasam’s. Quality protein maize is a high lysine and tryptophan type developed by CIMMYT. It can enhance the nutrition of the poor whose diets depend heavily on maize and raise the quality of maize-based pig and poultry feeds. The landowner’s maize production is for seed, which markets locally at five times the value of grain and reflects Java farmers’ growing interest in quality protein maize. To Yasam’s delight, he and some village women were hired to weed, fertilize, and harvest the plot. Yasam earns 12,500 Indonesian Rupiahs (US $1.30) for each half day he works. The women are paid less (7,500 Rupiahs), but in a village with little money this new income is very welcome.

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On the island of Java, Yasam tends this plot of quality protein maize for his landowner.

Indonesia has released two open-pollinated varieties of quality protein maize. They were developed using experimental varieties from CIMMYT by Dr. Marsum Dalhan, head of the Breeding and Germplasm Section of the Indonesian Cereal Research Institute. Marsum has benefited both from CIMMYT training activities and through support for his work from the Asian Development Bank.

Virtually no maize is grown around Carin. That is good news for landowners who produce maize seed and, especially, that of quality protein maize. Because the quality protein trait is “recessive”—that is, both parents must carry it and pass it on, for it to be expressed in offspring—any plants that are fertilized with pollen from other types of maize will not produce quality protein seed.

The economics look good to the landowner. He produces two crops of quality protein seed a year. Still there is a risk. The market for this maize is in its infancy in Indonesia where most animal feed is artificially fortified with lysine at the feed mill. Nevertheless, Yasam Saanim, a person who has farmed forever, beams with cautious optimism. “It looks like we will have a benefit from the maize,” he smiles.


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