June 04, 2018
By Didit Hariyadi
Enrekang, SOUTH SULAWESI. Despite of its known medicinal benefit and cultural importance, the threat of extinction looms for jewawut (foxtail millet) in Kaluppini village of Enrekang, South Sulawesi, while the local administration is yet to show support for the development of the crop.
Before rice, people of Enrekang consumed jewawut (Setarica italica), an annual grass grown for human food and once considered as a vital crop in East Asia, in the 1960s. The plant was brought to Sulawesi nearly 3,000 years ago through the Chinese migration.
Abdul Halim, a leader of the indigenous Kaluppini tribe, said though not planted widely in South Sulawesi, his people still plant jewawut for the harvesting and paying respect to elders rituals held in every eight years called maccera manurung.
“Kaluppini still plant [jewawut] for rituals,” said Halim.
The reason why the people rarely plant jewawut today, Halim said, is because the plant would not grow well on soil contaminated with chemicals.
“I see that jewawut is more fertile in new lands, burned lands. If [land] is already being planted with other plants, [that means the soil is] already contaminated with chemicals. So [the soil] is not fertile anymore [to grow Jewawut],” he said adding as farmers need to apply herbicide for other crops.
With limited irrigation channels and the ban on opening new lands by burning, farmers of Kaluppini adopt intercropping agriculture where they would plant varied crops in the same areas, such as corn, nut, and rice. They would plant the crops during rainy season and jewawut on dry season, between April and June.
“Jewawut is usually planted once a year when entering dry season, between April to June,” said Halim adding that jewawut can be harvested within two months.
Muhammadi Riadi, a jewawut researcher from Hasanuddin University, Makassar, South Sulawesi, cited in his study in 2015, he found that the plant was not as fertile if grown in soils that have been contaminated by chemicals.
Riadi suggested that the government establish designated areas for jewawut cultivation.
“This plant can be an alternative crop during dry season, [it] can also be planted in the slope areas to prevent erosion,” he said adding that the type of soil and climate must be taken into consideration for planting jewawut.
Meanwhile, Halim said that he hoped for the government to provide the seeds and open new areas for jewawut to be managed in natural ways.
“If not, jewawut could be extinct in the future. Currently the seeds are from local people and not the government,” he said adding the price of jewawut can reach Rp40,000 (US$ 2.82) per kilogram in the market.
Siddiq, a Kaluppini farmer, said that he planted jewawut for daily consumption. “But, not as staple food because I get bored too. I consume jewawut, at least, once a month, mixing it with rice,” said Siddiq adding that one kilogram planted in 5,000 square meters can produce five sacks of jewawut grains.
A Way to Local Food Security
Anthropologist from Hasanuddin University of Makassar, Tasrifin Tahara argued that preserving jewawut culture means to protect Kaluppini’s local identity.
“We hope that local wisdom can be preserved in this country and be given the room to enrich Indonesia’s cultural diversity and identity,” said Tahara adding that government should encourage on development and consumption of local food.
“Most importantly, people of Kaluppini practices the organic way [to cultivate jewawut] so there is synergy between nature, agriculture system and culture.”
Besides Kaluppini village, he added, a small number of Duri villagers of Enrekang district are planting jewawut as the plant is suitable for mountainous areas.
Tahara notes that people started abandoning jewawut as a result of lack of campaign and knowledge about the plant consumption.
“The government is focusing only on food that sells in the market but ignoring the local potential that that has become the root of local identity. This can be one of the factors why local people is abandoning jewawut,” he said. “also, the food security program only acknowledges rice, sidelining other crops that have become staple foods for some indigenous people.”
Acting head of Enrekang Food Security agency, Arsil Bagenda said that the government is yet to consider to cultivate jewawut as they are still looking at its economic potential for local people in the future.
“If [jewawut’s] potential is promising then we can develop [the plant but with] different variety,” said Bagenda adding that local administration has not stepped in, forcing farmers to obtain seeds from their own crops. “So, there is no permanent [jewawut] cultivation program in place. The least we do is develop the farmers groups,” he said.
Meanwhile, head of South Sulawesi agriculture, Food Security and Horticulture Agency, Fitriani said jewawut is not included in the food security agenda from the central government hence they do not develop the plant. “We don’t provide the seeds so it’s purely the initiative of the Enrekang people,” said Fitriani.
Aside from its use on traditional rituals, jewawut contains higher fiber compared to rice and higher Omega 3, 6 and 9 compared to eggs. “That is why millet [red : jewawut] should be developed,” said Riadi.
Riadi added other benefits from consuming jewawut include bone growth, weight loss and reduces blood glucose, thus preventing anemia, cancer and diabetes. Jewawut, he said has low glycemic index which is suitable for people with diabetes.
“The plant is sugar free. [So] we want jewawut to be cultivated as an alternative crops as it is important for the health,” he said.
Riadi also suggested for the collection of its genetic diversity to determine the good seed for cultivation
However, he added that even with massive cultivation, it remains a great challenge to shift consumption from rice, to jewawut.
Roy Efendi of Indonesian Cereal Research Center, in Maros said, there is no incentive to further research jewawut as people tend to choose corn and other grains.
Furthermore, Efendi said that jewawut is known as bird food. “Jewawut is used for baking. We have never conducted any research on jewawut,” he said. Ekuatorial.
Didit Hariyadi is a freelance journalist based in Makassar, South Sulawesi.