Agricultural development in Timor-Leste and other developing countries can be improved by harnessing social relationships, according to a study carried out by researchers from The University of Western Australia.
Mr Modesto Lopes, a Timor-Leste national, examined characteristics associated with the success of community seed production groups in multiplying and disseminating high yielding maize seed in Timor-Leste, as part of his Master’s degree at UWA.
Project Supervisor Professor William Erskine from UWA’s Centre for Plant Genetics and Breeding, and Institute of Agriculture, said the dissemination of high-quality grain to farmers, especially in isolated rural areas was particularly difficult.
“In developing countries, the identification of high-yielding seed varieties is a time-consuming process, and the multiplication of seed sufficient for distribution to farmers is expensive,” Professor Erskine said.
“Understanding how seed production groups function and what characteristics are common to successful groups is crucial to develop an effective strategy for technology dissemination in the farming community.”
A survey was conducted on 30 seed production groups, two years after the groups were established. Successful groups produced sufficient seed for multiplication at a larger scale the following year, as well as surplus seed for distribution to group members or for sale.
All successful seed production groups were built upon existing informal farmer groupings, such as mutual labour groups or church groups.
The results showed that for successful collective action to diffuse seed within communities by production groups, a group should have good governance including a clear management structure, a strong leader, a high degree of group trust and regular meetings.
Professor Erskine said these traits reflected the strength of social relationships and social capital of farmer groups.
“Clearly, to build new seed production groups we must build upon existing farmer groupings and piggy-back on existing social capital,” he said.
“An important way to develop community groups in general and seed production groups in particular is to provide support to improve governance of already existing groups.”
The Timor-Leste President’s Healthy Families Nutrition Award announced last week is a great example of government support for successful community-based seed groups. The award aims to recognise and commend a female group who demonstrates outstanding innovation, commitment, and leadership to promote and improved nutrition in families and community.
The Atauro women-led group formed by the Seeds of Life program was one of five groups to receive the award.
The paper Harnessing social capital for maize seed diffusion in Timor-Leste was published in Agronomy for Sustainable Development and the research was supported by the Australian Government Department for Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) to the Seeds of Life program.
Mr Lopes has returned to Timor-Leste where he continues his sustainable development work with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Dili.