The number of people experiencing hunger in Timor Leste has reduced dramatically thanks to an enormously successful agricultural project led by The University of Western Australia.
Professor William Erskine from UWA’s Centre for Plant Genetics and Breeding and Institute of Agriculture led the Seeds of Life Project to address food security in Timor-Leste, a small country ranked the fourth lowest on the Global Hunger Index in 2015.
The project was funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) in partnership with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
New varieties of staple foods - maize, rice, sweet potato, cassava and peanuts - were introduced and over 4000 on-farm trials were conducted between 2005 and 2014. The recently released analysis has shown that approximately one in two of all rural households in Timor-Leste have adopted a new Seeds of Life variety, that growing the improved varieties has helped farmers grow more food, and that they were less hungry than before.
Professor Erskine said part of the success is attributed to harnessing the strong relationships within farming communities.
“Sixty per cent of farming households in Timor-Leste live below the poverty line. These people may have very little, but they have very strong community groups which we leveraged firstly to encourage the farmers to give the new varieties a try and secondly to multiply seed,” Professor Erskine said.
The Seeds of Life team asked farmers to make a five metre by five metre plot in the middle of their farm available to grow the new varieties, and to manage the plot the same way they managed the rest of the farm.
“What we asked for in return was that they should host a field day after harvest, where we would compare the crops, grind it, cook it, taste it, and that they should invite their neighbours to see the results for themselves,” Professor Erskine said.
“Under farmer management, productivity increased by a staggering 25% to 100% depending on the variety. The fact that one in two of all rural households in Timor-Leste have adopted a Seeds of Life variety is simply incredible.”
Professor Erskine will present the journey towards a shorter hungry season in Timor Leste at a public lecture on Tuesday, 14 June 2016 from 5.00pm – 6.00pm in the Bayliss Lecture Theatre at The University of Western Australia. All are welcome to attend.
Professor William Erskine (+61 8) 6488 1903
Diana Boykett (Communications Officer, The UWA Institute of Agriculture)
(+61 8) 6488 3756 / (+61 4) 04 152 262