Timor-Leste (East Timor) is one of Asia’s smallest and poorest countries. It has a population of around one million. It is a very rural society, with plans to develop agricultural exports such as fair trade coffee.
Many Aid organisations are operating there. One apparent success story has been documented by ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) TV’s Landline in a 2-Part program:
From Tim Lee's ABC report:
JEFF PRIME, AUSAID: It's one of the fundamental hurdles, if you like, to development. A country can't grow economically if its peoples can't feed themselves properly.
ROB WILLIAMS, SEEDS OF LIFE: Seeds of Life aims to do two things. One is to increase the yield on farm. The second most important aim is to train East Timorese researchers, East Timorese scientists, to a level that they can solve their own agricultural problems, so they can do research that assist their farmers.
Seeds of Life
ROB WILLIAMS, SEEDS OF LIFE EAST TIMOR: After the violence in 1999 when the Indonesians left East Timor all the research stations in the country were destroyed. Many of the trained staff, trained professional staff in East Timor were Indonesians who then moved back to Indonesia. So there was a large gap of trained people in East Timor. Seeds of Life has a mandate of rebuilding and re-establishing three agriculture research stations in this country. At present this new democratic nation struggles to feed itself but the Agriculture Minister can see a time when the work of aid organisations will bring prosperity and opportunity.
MARIANO ASSANAMI SABINO, AGRICULTURE MINISTER, EAST TIMOR (translated): Also like Australians to be able to enjoy our horticulture produce and so we'd like to work together in the future, how the markets in Australia can be opened to the hard work and sweat and tears of Timorese farmers.
The program has local control. The East Timor Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) is responsible for Seeds of Life (Fina ba Moris). The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) are among those who fund and support this initiative. The international umbrella group Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) conducted research in 2009:
Researchers further observed that adoption of the new varieties strengthened household food security and often enabled farmers to produce a surplus for the market, which for many was a first. Farmers reported that they used extra income from crop production to pay for such items as other foods, school fees and clothing or to invest in small livestock or agricultural processing equipment.
One participating farmer, Juvita Da Costa Freitas, commented as follows on her experience: “After selling, my husband and I decided to buy a set of plastic chairs, which I considered a reward for my hard work. . . . I shared cuttings with the neighbors and some of the harvest with my brothers. The experience we had with the sweetpotato is a story for our children to remember when I pass away.”
Story of the Month: November 2009
My personal preferences for Aid projects are ones:
- that are as much or more concerned with lasting skills transfer as building infrastructure
- that are controlled from the start by local people
- whose infrastructure will be owned, managed, staffed, maintained and improved by locals
No small order, but Seeds of Life seems to be on track to fill it. Hopefully it is an alternative to multinational monopolies on seeds.
(The images of the Timor-Leste's map and flag are from the CIA's online World Factbook. Yes, that CIA.)