Promoting Food Security Through the Homelot:
An Experience from Indonesia

Thousands of migrant families in Indonesia face a daunting challenge--to produce food from small plots in areas where their traditional farming practices may no longer be appropriate.

These Indonesian families are part of a century-old program known as "transmigration." Millions of people have been relocated from the densely populated areas of Java, Bali, Madura and Lombok to new settlements on the sparsely inhabited outer islands of Sumatra, Sulavesi, Kalimantan and Irian Jaya.

The Indonesian government provides each family with a small house and three parcels of land: a homelot of 0.25 hectare and two other plots totaling 1.75 hectares. In the first year, the families receive food, a few tools and planting materials. After that, they are expected to feed themselves on their own.

For many, the dream of becoming self-sufficient on their own farms has faded or even become a source of frustration. The settlements are often isolated, with few basic facilities and limited opportunities to market crops or earn cash in other ways. Studies show that families have trouble achieving self-sufficiency--even after 10 years. Food shortages have meant that household members, especially men, leave the settlement areas in search of work. The little money they earn is used to purchase food and non-food essentials.

The government, concerned with the situation, asked for help from the World Food Program (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). A pilot project was designed for three provinces in Sumatra to help 42,000 families in 98 Transmigration Settlement Units (TSU) develop self-sufficient farms. FAO provides technical assistance and WFP, under its Food for Work Program, provides food assistance to participating families.

Part of the FAO technical-assistance strategy includes a special study to understand the role of homelots in attaining food self-sufficiency. A rapid appraisal survey, undertaken in 1992, indicated that farm families view homelots as their most important land holding for meeting daily needs. Nevertheless, many homelots were underutilized.

The reasons were numerous. Some families did not have the right agriculture skills or experience, particularly with the crop combinations needed to attain food sufficiency from small plots. Others lacked the right tools. Even the extension staff working in the settlement units lacked the skills and training required to design homelots for food self-sufficiency. They tended to be more concerned with promoting commercial crop production on the farmers' larger plots.

However, all the farmers surveyed were eager to improve food production on their homelots. Some had already established self-sustaining multi-story cropping systems that provided a continuous variety of food and non-food products year-round.

These findings were discussed with extension staff in a series of workshops held in the three pilot provinces. The extensionists concluded that hands-on training in household food production would help them promote homelot development among farm families.

In response, FAO conducted a series of workshops for extension workers and farm leaders in the pilot areas. Sessions were designed to take participants through a step-by-step process, starting with the role of homelots in daily living and proceeding to the potential of homelots in assuring household food security. The workshop was also used to test a field manual--Promoting Household Food Security and Improving Nutrition through the Homelot: A Training Guide for Field Workers. This extension tool suggests practical steps for working with farmers to increase homelot productivity.

Workshop participants also conducted household surveys. They found that:

Many of the families surveyed were unaware of the food value of the crops they grew or of their importance in maintaining good health. The survey results suggested that food production could be expanded through multi-story mixed cropping including combinations of popular foods from the principal nutrient groups. Farmers could also improve yields through better crop management.

A review in 1993 will assess how well participants apply the knowledge and skills developed during the workshop. Initial reports indicate that community activities have already begun, particularly with groups of women farmers.

This project has shown that extension staff trained in commercial crop production may be poorly equipped to address issues of family nutrition and food security. Extensionists and farm leaders should now be more aware of these issues. From workshop sessions and the new field manual, they have gained the information they need to help farmers grow more food on their homelots. They have a sense of enthusiasm as they tackle this new task. Now the challenge is to go out and discuss the issue with farmers.

Sommers, Paul. 1993. Promoting Food Security through the Homelot: An Experience from Indonesia. Unpublished papers.


Paul Sommers
5317 Del Moreno Dr
Woodland Hills, CA 91364
Tel: (818) 348-4814