Federal Minister for International Development, Melissa Parke, has used a recent overseas visit to inspect the Seeds of Life project in Timor-Leste.
The Fremantle MP, who hails from an apple farm in Donnybrook, visited the Seeds of Life Community Seed Production Group (CSPG) at Ulmera Suco, Liquica last month. The group's 15 members include 13 women, most of whom are widows.
Seeds of Life (SOL) is a collaborative project between the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), AusAID, The University of Western Australia and the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. It is funded jointly by the governments of East Timor and Australia and aims to alleviate hunger by increasing production of Timor-Leste's staple food crops by developing a sustainable national seed system.
Timor-Leste is among the world's 10 poorest countries, where about 40 per cent of households rely on subsistence agriculture and many experience hunger for up to four months a year. Food insecurity mostly affects the poor and households headed by women.
Australian Seeds of Life funding is provided through AusAID and ACIAR. The Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture (CLIMA), within the UWA Institute of Agriculture, coordinates the Australian-funded activities, including CPSGs, crop improvement research, and capacity building through higher degree training of project staff.
Timor-Leste has released 11 varieties of key staple food crops from the SOL project, all with significant - in some cases remarkable - improvements in productivity potential.
So far about 33,000 households - 15 per cent of all households in Timor-Leste - are growing SOL varieties.
Liquica's CSPG, one of 680 spread across the country, produces seed from improved varieties such as maize cv Sele and peanut cv Utamua.
"The Minister was able to meet in person a few of the many poor people in Timor-Leste whose lives were deeply affected by the project," CLIMA director Professor William Erskine said of the visit.
"The new varieties are generating surplus food which is then sold in local markets, sometimes as the first cash in hand for households. We anticipate that by the end of the project's five-year lifespan we will have made a major contribution to food security in Timor-Leste."
The project was recognised last year with the award of an Order of Australia (OAM) to Adjunct Professor Rob Williams for services to agriculture.
Caption: Melissa Parke - Federal Minister for International Development and Francisca Soares Leite (Leader of Community Seed Production Group) sample maize seed grown by the group.
Professor William Erskine (Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Agriculture and the UWA Institute of Agriculture) (+61 8) 6488 1903
Michael Sinclair-Jones (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 3229 / (+61 4) 00 700 783