Nusa Tenggara Timur Travelogue


Nusa Tenggara Timur Travelogue

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[Words: Liam Golding, Masters of Tropical Environmental Management student]

CDU team

The CDU team

At the end of September a team comprised of CDU academics as well as students present, post and past left Darwin on a fact-proving mission. Three of Indonesia’s easternmost islands in Nusa Tenggara Timur (NTT), the closest to the Top End, were traversed. The central tenet of the field trip was rigorous academic research, but a consistent theme of this journey was first class hospitality and humour.

The research provided a forum in which access and availability for food and water resources were discussed with regard to three water catchments of NTT, with locals engaged and interviewed about irrigated rice projects. Groups consulted included Government officers, NGO officers and farmers all with some knowledge and/or experience of the development and maintenance of irrigation infrastructure in the area. The issues that arose from these discussions will be documented in a manner that is useful for planning and prioritizing for agencies that provide services within the affected communities.

Speaking with District Officers

Speaking with District Officers

FGD topshot

Arriving on Sumba Island we were greeted and transported in the back of the ute belonging to the local monarchy, which CDU is now interrelated with via RIEL PhD candidate Sarah Hobgen. Rambu Sarah not only organised all the integral meetings and Focus Group Discussions (FGD) that the research depended on. She also organised a music concert with VIP seats so close to the stage that the lack of sweat and lip syncing from pop stars was clearly evident.

The Royal Ute

The Royal Ute

Pia Harkness, a former student who took up a community development position after participating on a previous CDU field trip to NTT, was concluding her placement. Members from her work and the local community assembled for a fusion Sumba Australia send off, in which a pig was killed and put on the BBQ, beers were enjoyed and music blasted.



A wedding invitation was extended to the team and we found ourselves on a table at large reception hall with everyone dressed to impress. Onstage, family, priests, MCs, lounge musicians competed for the attention of the gathered guests who nonetheless seemed a little disengaged. That was until the dancing started and there was a rush of feet, including representatives from CDU. Traditional routines followed, all of us stepping, twirling, clapping, giggling and squeaking. We had to leave at a reasonable hour, but apparently the guests kept going until daybreak.



This all might seem like nothing but fun, but much work was crammed in and - due to social obligations that we were fulfilling - time management had to be very deliberate and efficient when compiling notes. Bronwyn and Penny introduced our team to a modern form of organising ones productive moments and accompanying breaks. The method induced, named “the pomodoro,” involves four sets of consecutive 25-minute working units broken by 5 minutes of stretching in between, and then a 30-minute break. The stretching was interesting; for among us there were yoga masters and capoeiristas. We also stretched the method to include something resembling planking.  I think some Indonesians won’t look at research the same way ever again.

Taking a Pomodoro break

Taking a Pomodoro break

There was a lot of traversing the rugged interior of these islands providing ample time observation, reflection and hilarity. Richard, Pak Kilo (Sir Crazy), was our spiritual comedic leader. He was always easily identifiable, by the people around him laughing and the fact that on average he is a foot taller than most and has a thing for colourful clothing. Young Sarah delivered jokes with dead pan style and with substance that would make Billy Connelly blush. Our humour exaggerated by exhaustion meant at times tears liberally streaked, the various local travelling companions joining in as laughter transcended language barriers.


Catchment area in NTT

Much information was gleamed from our daily meetings and briefings, from one of the farmer focus group discussions we learnt of Ladyboy land. Ladyboy land refers to previously fruitful gardens converted to rice paddies that that look lush, but due to water and resource delivery deficiencies are infertile and unproductive. From other farmers we heard of official gangsters, people with positions governing resource management that were greedily feeding themselves first. We were observing an ugly reflection of food insecurity – a serious induction to the costs of a bowl of rice. The resilience and ingenuity of people continuously impressed upon us, as we visited various projects and places where rural communities were diversifying options and sowing new ideas.

Talking to farmers

Talking with farmers

One example was a numerical named ‘Project 2-3-4.’ That being 2 hectares of land, 3 crops a year of rotating between rice, vegies and legume and 4 cattle. The cattle are penned and fed rice stalk and grasses grown on the edges, their urine is collected via drainage to be used to create fertiliser and pesticides and their manure is used to make biogas to replace smoking wood fuel. If there is diseased crop it can be fed to the cows which can be sold to generate income.

Learning about Project 2-3-4

Learning about Project 2-3-4

All that was accomplished during this field trip would not have been possible without the organisational support and research assistance from our colleagues in Indonesia. They assisted us by arranging meetings with rural communities, NGOs and government representatives, all committed to creating opportunities for NTT. The rural communities always welcomed our team with warm greetings, caffeinated drinks, snacks and betel nut (optional) and above all gave their time, knowledge and blessings. If my own work can equal such reception by half I would consider my mission to be accomplished.

The team with their hosts

The team with hosts



[words: Dr Bronwyn Myers]

This field trip to Sumba, West Timor and Flores builds on previous trips to Linamnutu Village in south-central West Timor in November 2009 and June 2011.

In 2009, we took CDU coursework students, along with students and colleagues from Indonesian university partners, to Linamnutu village in south-central west Timor – as the inaugural Eastern Indonesian Field Intensive (EIFI) (CDU 2013). This site was chosen on advice from our Indonesian colleagues who had noted that, despite there being irrigation infrastructure in the village, people seemed to have food shortages and a lack of variety in foods grown.

At that time, we interviewed some 50 households about irrigation, household water supplies and food production. We found that, despite the irrigation infrastructure, the village experienced unreliable and irregular irrigation water supply and food shortage issues. There seemed to be a lack of information in the village and difficulties sharing information. There also appeared to be major problems with the governance and management of irrigation infrastructure.  The key findings from this project are published in Myers et al. (2012).

In 2011, we returned again with students and colleagues and interviewed a further 70 households focussing on land-holding size and land access and food security issues.  MTEM student Pia Harkness returned with us to base her Research Project on the study (Harkness 2012). We found a skewed distribution of land holdings, with most households holding <2 ha each and a hand full of households accessing far greater than that. We also found that, again despite the investment in irrigation infrastructure, 50% of households experienced food shortages each year. This trip was supported by a CDU Small Grant.

In October 2013, our aim was to build on this previous work by (a) undertaking some preliminary investigations in two other eastern Indonesian catchments to see if the problems encountered at Linamnutu in west Timor are widespread , and (b) investigating the origin of problems within the planning, construction, establishment and implementation phases of the irrigation infrastructure development.  We chose catchments in Sumba, Flores and revisited Linamnutu in West Timor. Instead of investigating one village in detail, we decided to visit several villages and use focus group discussions with a number of farmers, NGOs staff of government officers, rather than household interviews. This work was funded by a second CDU Small Grant.

As with our field work in Linamnutu, West Timor, we encountered stories of poorly functioning and governed irrigation infrastructure resulting in limited access to water for farming, and frustration among farmers due to the missed opportunities and hardship created by these problems. Our preliminary findings indicate that poor project management and poor community engagement at all stages of project development and implementation are major contributors to the problems with irrigation.

This field work will underpin a Research Project for Liam Golding, part of his Master of Environmental Management, and we also aim to publish our findings in a journal article.

Bronwyn is leading the development of an application to AusAID for a larger project investigating issues associated with irrigation developments, using a whole of catchment approach. This application was submitted previously, and will be redeveloped to include the findings from the current study.



CDU (2013) Eastern Indonesian Field Intensive.  Accessed October 2013

Harkness P. (2012). To sell your stomach: food insecurity, access to land and land tenure change in the village to Linamnutu, West Timor, Indonesia. Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of Master of Tropical Environmental  Management, Charles Darwin University.

Myers B., Wurm P., Palekahelu D., Liufeto G., Mangimbulude J., Kapa M., Fisher R. (2012).  Food Security and Access to Water Resources: A Case Study at a Village in West Timor. Kritis 21, 134-154.


Paddy fields near Waingapu, East Sumba

Paddy fields near Waingapu, East Sumba



19 September – Darwin-Denpasar

 20 September – Denpasar-Waingapu (Sumba island)

 20 – 26 September – activities in district of East Sumba

  • Focus group discussions with farmers of irrigated rice fields in four locations, and government and NGO officers
  • One interview with head of district department of public works
  • Visited weirs and observed irrigation infrastructure
  • Discussions about journal articles being written with Pia Harkness.