Marapokot farmers in Flores, West Timor.

Fixing food security with forage legumes

One of Indonesia’s poorest provinces faces dire food security issues, but forage legumes could provide a surprising solution.

  • 13 December 2010 | Updated 14 October 2011

Introduction

East Nusa Tenggara, which includes West Timor, is in the eastern end of the Lesser Sunda Islands, and is one of Indonesia's poorest and least developed provinces.

Despite depending on agriculture, the province has struggled to achieve food self-sufficiency, and 60 per cent of the population live in poverty.

Average annual rainfall ranges between 1000 and 2000 mm, but subsistence farmers often find difficulty meeting annual food security requirements.

Crops and cattle challenges

An estimated 316 000 tonnes of the staple maize is produced annually.

But average yield has been limited to two tonnes per hectare, due to inadequate nutrition, poor crop husbandry and variable seasonal conditions.

The province farms over 400 000 head of cattle, but animal growth rates are slow and erratic due to variability in fodder supply and quality.

Forage legumes help

Despite depending on agriculture, the province has struggled to achieve food self-sufficiency, and 60 per cent of the population live in poverty.

Forage legumes, such as Clitoria ternatea and Centrosema pascuorum, may help animal and crop production when grown as a relay or rotation with maize.

The legumes use wasted soil moisture to make high quality forage for animal use, and to fix nitrogen for subsequent maize production.

Research has shown that dry season (April to October) supplementation adds 100 g/day live weight gain compared to animals fed locally available material (from 150 to 250 g/day).

Increases in maize yield attributable to legume nitrogen fixation vary, but the results from 2008-09 indicate legumes contributed to an increase in maize grain yields of between 0.75 and 1 tonnes per hectare without inorganic fertilisers.

Current research

CSIRO is working with Indonesian agencies to expand the use of forage legumes across a range of farming systems and regions.

Researchers are now looking at:  

  • where else forages could be used
  • improving maize agronomy and legume nitrogen fixation
  • local facilities to produce seeds of preferred species of forage legumes
  • insect management strategies for legumes, and finding legumes resistant to insect pests
  • on-farm research and pilot demonstrations to showcase the approach to farmers.

Find out more about CSIRO's work Partnering with international and Australian communities to create sustainable livelihoods.