A Story of the Resilient Lady from Saritani

The sun was scorching, and the dust rose from the cobbled dirt road. A pick-up truck crawled slowly on the road to Saritani Village, Wonosari District, Boalemo Regency. More than half of the dry land area of Gorontalo Province in the northern peninsula of Sulawesi has the potential for maize commodity development.

Gorontalo is one of the national corn centres. Production continues to increase until it has doubled in recent years. Exports to the Philippines have also boosted people’s dreams of prosperity. Saritani is the remotest village in southwest Wonosari District, Boalemo Regency. The distance is about 30 kilometres from the sub-district office, and about half of the road is unpaved. This transmigrant village consists of several settlement units (SP). Saritani SP3 is inhabited by 55 families of local transmigrants from Gorontalo and 45 families who are transmigrants from several areas in Java. They all live in harmony side by side. They take advantage of the potential of corn as an agricultural commodity. The contours of the terrain are steep, making farming in this land not easy. Luckily the fresh wind usually blows away the scorching heat. 

Mbok (a nickname used to call an older woman) Waikem, a 51-year-old woman from East Java, is a determined individual who seeks a better life by joining the transmigration program in Gorontalo. She and her family, a husband and two children, previously tried their luck by leaving their peaceful hometown in Ngawi, East Java, for Kalimantan. After four months at the new place, they decided to return to East Java due to the worst condition of living. After returning, they worked on their 40 × 40 m² piece of land in their hometown. “Actually, the results were pretty good,” said Mbok Waikem. There were few chances to thrive, but it was sufficient for them. However, another problem disrupted this family. After getting back to Ngawi, Rohmat fell into a deep depression. Mbok Waikem tried to help her son, but her son did not show improvement.

Mbok Waikem is getting herself ready to go to the cornfield. Today she will go alone without Ahmad Muhyar who is sick.

One day, Mbok  Waikem’s husband, Muhyar, saw an announcement of a transmigration offer outside Java. One of the destinations was Gorontalo, Sulawesi. Mbok Waikem and Muhyar did not give up easily. They decided to, once again, join the transmigration program to Gorontalo. They hoped to strive for better opportunities and to heal their son, Rohmat. They believed that the similar demography between their current place to the Boalemo Regency would support their livelihood. 

In Boalemo, each transmigrant family got a house with a yard and a hectare of land. The land is about 1-2 kilometres from the house. The one-hectare land that the family of Mbok  Waikem got is sloping. Muhyar started working on the land immediately, planting corn. The Saritani transmigration settlement still needs to reach the ideal standard of living. They need to collect rainwater for any purpose, including drinking and cooking. A well is located far away, but the water is not suitable for consumption. This family received no social security for the first six months where they almost ran out of their savings. Initially the family received a ten-month support, but the social security support was discontinued.

Not wanting to sit idly in the uncertainty, Mbok  Waikem and his family planted their yard with little spices and seasonal crops. Mbok Waikem also produced and sold koro beans tempeh to her neighbours. The sales were small, but Mbok Waikem seized all opportunities she could find. Every day, Mbok Waikem and Muhyar go to the fields with Rohmat. Usually, Rohmat will return home earlier to bring the fodder for goats taken nearby the cornfield. Mbok Waikem and the communities choose to plant hybrid corn because it is easy to sell as collateral or to intermediaries. 

Due to its remote location, farmers need to travel far to the sub-district town to get agricultural supplies which are exceptionally expensive. Mbok  Waikem could produce 4-5 tons of corn from a 1-hectare, where she sells IDR 2,000/ kg. During the harvest season, the middleman will come to Saritani and pick the harvest from farmers. Some farmers, especially those from Java, also do intercropping.

Some of Mbok Waikem’s corn at her cornfield that has been harvested and is ready to be sold.
Some of Mbok Waikem’s corn at her cornfield that has been harvested and is ready to be sold.

UNDP, through its Small Grants Programme, funded by the Global Environment Facility, worked with the local communities to address the water shortage in the area. With support from Marsudi Lestantun Institute, Mbok Waikem and locals in the Saritani village worked together to create a clean water network distributed to residents. Through a program called Building a Sustainable Agricultural Model Sloping Land Buffer Zone Nantu wildlife reserve, from 2018-2020, the group has slowly changed the farming pattern to fit the region’s climate challenge.

Now that her son has recovered, thanks to the fellow residents of Saritani village and the Marsudi Lestantun Group, Mbok Waikem hopes that his son will find his soul mate in Saritani. After nearly 20 years of wandering about, this resilient lady wishes that she and her husband can return to Java someday or retire in Gorontalo. 

Written by Harijanto Suwarno & Aditya Widya Putri 
Photos credit by Edy Susanto
Edited for UNDP Indonesia website by Enggi Dewanti