Mr Rob Williams, an Adjunct Senior Research Fellow at UWA, was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) on the Queens Birthday in June, 2012.
Mr Williams has dedicated himself to the agricultural development of Timor-Leste for the past 10 years and is currently working for the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA) at The University of Western Australia as the Research Advisor on the Seeds of Life program (SoL) in Timor-Leste.
Rob’s leadership has led to the release of high yielding varieties of maize, rice, sweet potato, cassava and peanuts by the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF). Included is the prized Ailuka 2 cassava variety in the photograph.
Rob Williams graduated from the University of Queensland with a Masters of Agricultural Science in 1990. He gained his first professional working experience in the Queensland Department of Primary Industries. This was followed by 12 years of solving on-farm problems through research and extension in the rice growing areas of New South Wales. During that period, Rob developed an effective and successful rice agronomy/physiology program to optimise rice crop yields.
Rob and his wife, Dr. Catharina Williams-van Klinken had, for some time, contemplated volunteering in a developing country and they realized that dream when they departed for Timor-Leste in September, 2002. Their plan was to live in Timor-Leste for 20 years and contribute where they could. Dr Williams-van Klinken found work (and still works) at the Dili Institute of Technology as a linguist.
Although Rob had a safe career path in Australia, he accompanied his wife and soon found work with the aid organization, World Vision. He quickly gained significant knowledge of agriculture in Timor-Leste and a good understanding of the constraints to agronomic productivity. Rob learned to speak the local language fluently and communicates extremely well with local farmers and researchers alike. Rob assisted the national university for a year and worked part time with an Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research(ACIAR) funded project on variety selection. He now works full time as the research advisor with Seeds of Life.
The current five year third phase of the program is funded jointly by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and ACIAR.
Rob Williams is a recognized mentor for agricultural development in Timor-Leste. He has been able to steer the Seeds of Life research program in such a manner as to significantly improve the capacity of Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries personnel to perform their duties while simultaneously raising agricultural productivity. Skills development by Seeds of Life within the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has been excellent and penetration of technology into farmer’s fields outstanding.
On-farm trials of Seeds of Life-Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries released varieties indicate a yield advantage over locals in excess of 47 per cent for maize, 47 per cent for peanuts, 150 per cent for sweet potatoes and 24 per cent for rice.
It is also estimated that 18,000 or 15 per cent of farmers in Timor-Leste are growing one or more SoL varieties.
Many are now, for the first time in their lives, making money from the sale of farm produce and use the proceeds for the purchase of other consumables, medicines and for education of their children.
The long term Seeds of Life plan is for technology development to be completely owned and operated by Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries personnel. Rob is strongly cognizant of this and ensures that researchers, agricultural extension personnel and farmers are well versed on relevant approaches to ensure technologies are not only developed but productively adopted by farmers.
Phase 3 of the program, which concentrates on seed production and extension, is dependent on the availability of productivity increasing varieties and other technologies.
Harry Nesbitt (Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture - Adjunct Professor) (+61 8) 9388 8588