Arkilaus Leku and his wife Yunten Betty are farmers in Op village in West Timor. Arkilaus is also the chair of a newly-formed home gardening support group of eight families who share a drip irrigation system.
Though Arkilaus had been a subsistence farmer, like most of his neighbors, for years, his poverty has kept him from buying new seeds. “I used to plant several types of greens and tomatoes; but since we didn’t know to fertilize or eliminate pests properly, we have had frequent crop failures that have made our situation worse.” Because of their hope and ambition, despite their obvious poverty, Arkilaus and his wife were invited to join Timor Zero Hunger activities in July 2017 and they have joined a variety of lessons and trainings since then to help them improve their knowledge of best practices for home gardening with scarce water and for organic pesticide and fertilizer use. To improve their family’s diet, they have learned to raise chickens, too – for the eggs and the meat; and, to complement having new food sources, Yunten has joined some cooking classes and information sessions about health and nutrition. Since October 2017 she is also a member of a CWS-supported women’s savings group.
With six months of learning and sharing to encourage them, Arkilaus, Yunten and other families in the home gardening group started planning for their new drip irrigation system back in January 2018. First, they assessed the idea of piloting such a system on their shared land given the limited water availability. After agreeing how the land would be divided up among them for cultivation, the group’s work began in earnest with land-clearing in May 2018 followed by preparing beds for a variety of vegetables (chili, tomatoes, cabbage, bitter melon and watermelon) and for a seed nursery. Then there was a reservoir to build, irrigation pipes to add and drip hose installation. And finally – planting and mulching! The first harvest was in September 2018 and all families are now enjoying a supply of fresh, nutritious vegetables. So far, the vegetables are eaten by the participating families and not sold for profit – though this is also part of the plan.
“With assistance from CWS we learned about many new things, especially drip irrigation. We now know how to make proper vegetable beds, how to install plastic mulch, which is a new thing for us in this village and maybe even for the whole sub-district community,” says Arkilaus. “Plastic mulch is used to suppress weeds and conserve water and, with drip irrigation, we don’t need to water the plants ourselves which saves us a lot of time and effort while saving a lot of our scarce water too. Because of the plastic mulch we have practically no weeds at all, so we don’t need to weed the plots much.”
Arkilaus went on to talk about learning how to pick good seeds, create a nursery and increase production, and then he said, “My family and the others in the group will continue working hard to make sure our drip irrigation pilot succeeds [and that all our other hard work is productive] toward a better future for all of us”.
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