What does it look like to cultivate and to keep creation in a way that glorifies God? What does it look like for a people to cultivate their relationship with each other and their homeland? And what does that look like when the only way you can stay alive—the only way you know how to keep your family fed—is to sacrifice your environment and the health of those you love to keep food on the table?

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Welcome to Borneo—the third largest island in the world.

What was once a lush home to some of the most diverse creatures on earth, such as the Bornean orangutan and the pygmy elephant, is now a land desperate for growth. Once 75 per cent of the land was covered in rainforest, but now the forest clings onto the last 30 per cent.

Borneo has the largest rates of deforestation in the world. And half of the population of the beloved Bornean orangutan has disappeared over the past 16 years.

Though this island has suffered great losses over the years, so have the people. For families like Feriyanto’s, the struggle is life-threatening.

Feriyanto holds onto a tree and looks off into the distance wearing a green sweater and a hat.

Feriyanto and his family are one of the many families in Borneo using traditional farming methods.

Feriyanto works as a farmer on the island of Borneo. He and his wife Elisabet have three children, one of whom attends a Compassion program at their local church. Each July, Feriyanto and his family work the fields until October to produce rice that they can sell and eat.

Their efforts only produce one harvest of rice a year and do not guarantee stable income. Their farming method is one long used by their ancestors, but which creates many issues that stretch further than a lack of steady income.

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How does the traditional farming method work?

1. To start the rice harvesting process, Feriyanto first opens the land by cutting the grass and shrubs.

 

2. After letting the grass dry for a few weeks, Feriyanto uses a chainsaw to cut down all the big trees.

 

3. By September, they are ready to burn the land.

 

4. Once the land is dry and burnt, the community works as a group to plant rice. The men are in charge of punching holes in the ground using spears, and the women follow sprinkling rice seeds in the holes.

This farming method—casually referred to as slash and burn agriculture—is one that the Dayak people native to Borneo have used for generations. This is the only way they have ever known to farm. Once a field is harvested, the people don’t reuse it—they move on to burn other lands.

Besides its negative environmental impact, the slash and burn method also creates income instability because of its heavy dependence on the weather and the fact that only one crop—rice—is yielded.

This leaves families like Feriyanto’s with an average of $45 CAD a month to feed a family of 5.

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                                  Feriyanto sits with his wife Elisabet and his daughter Meta Helendri who attends the Belempung Compassion centre.

“I don’t have a fixed monthly income. Sometimes in a month I get a lot, but sometimes I get nothing,” he says. “Some years, I experience crop failure. Other times, I have had to pay fines of $63 [CAD] for my fires accidentally burning another person’s land.”

“Though it is part of their tradition, slash and burn agriculture is preventing people and the land from thriving.”

With three children and a wife who is frequently ill, Feriyanto cannot afford such risks.

“My wife is frequently hospitalized for stomach problems. In the last three years, she has not been able to regularly work with me at the field. All of my family has stomach problems.”

Feriyanta’s daughter, Meta Helendri, is one of the many children who are forced to miss school because of poor air quality.

The traditional farming method doesn’t only affect the livelihood of families, as caregivers pinch to provide food for their families. It also prevents children from attending school. Because of air pollution during times of burning, schools sometimes close temporarily due to smoke and smog.

Each season, families are also displaced as they look for shelter away from the smoky haze. For the burning season, families pack up everything they own, leaving school and their local church.

Though it is part of their tradition, slash and burn agriculture is preventing people and the land from thriving.

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What’s a pig got to do with change?

Pigs, among others, will be the supporting characters that will help locals learn sustainable farming techniques.

A local church in the village of Belempung has seen the dangerous consequences of the traditional Dayak farming method. They have also seen that the locals have no examples of alternative farming methods.

 “The church is starting their own training farm to teach the community a healthy, sustainable way to provide for their families.”

Widodo, an advisor at a Compassion centre at the church in Belempung, started dreaming up alternatives with other staff. They realized that what is necessary for families to see healthy lives and environments is a sustainable, diversified farming method.

Widodo is an advisor at a Compassion centre at the church in Belempung that Feriyanto’s daughter, Meta Helendri attends.

So, the church is starting their own training farm to teach the community a healthy, sustainable way to provide for their families. The community will learn a method of farming that uses the same land year after year, rather than harvesting once and moving on.

This farming method will teach locals to grow a wealth of vegetables—not just rice—which will allow children to eat a more balanced diet. They will also learn to raise pigs so they can have a long-term source of manure for healthy soil and for a renewable energy source. Pigs will also provide a secondary source of income for families in years when the harvest fails.

Widodo and the local church’s solution will both protect the rainforest and create food security for families.

Pretty neat, isn’t it?

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What does saving the rainforest have to do with releasing children from poverty?

We’re glad you asked.

Though not always recognized, there is a deep connection between a child and their physical environment. Think of a game of dominoes. When one domino falls, it creates a ripple effect on all those that follow. When the environment falls, so does a family’s health and their ability to provide for themselves.

But when we empower our neighbours to cultivate and to keep their land, we are helping them to glorify God in their daily work.

When we support families in deep poverty, like Feriyanto’s, in acquiring new farming methods that will neither sacrifice the health of their children or their environment, we are inviting a piece of God’s restored Kingdom here on earth today.

 When we support families in deep poverty, like Feriyanto’s, in acquiring new farming methods that will neither sacrifice the health of their children or their environment, we are inviting a piece of God’s restored Kingdom here on earth today.

But none of this can happen without your help.

Will you help children and their families become free from poverty, living a healthy life the way God intended?

I Want to Give a Pig!

Written by: Laura Phillips

Laura Phillips is the Marketing Writer for Compassion Canada. She is passionate about pursuing justice and mercy through writing, crafting, music, and sharing stories over a cup of strong coffee.