(Tetum) Farmers wanting to plant the improved sweet potato varieties Hohrae 1, 2 and 3 will now be able to access quality cuttings from over 60 production centres across all 13 districts of Timor-Leste.
Seeds of Life (SoL) in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) has established the centres to reduce the time and distance that cuttings need to travel before reaching farmers.
Community Seed Support Officer Luis Gonzaga says cuttings are most susceptible to drying out and becoming less viable in the time between when they’re harvested and replanted.
“The longer the time taken to transport cuttings to farmers, the greater the risk that cuttings will be damaged meaning an increased chance of crop failure,” he said.
“By establishing production centres in subdistricts closer to where the farmers are we’re increasing the chances that cuttings will survive and thrive when planted.”
The total area of these cuttings production centres is six hectares, meaning 3.84 million cuttings can be produced locally each year. Once successfully established in famers’ fields these have the potential to produce about 480 tonnes of sweet potato.
“these [Hohrae] varieties produce double the yield in half the time (3-4 months) compared with local sweet potatoes (6-8 months)”
Another benefit of increasing the distribution of cuttings production centres is that farmers can get quality sweet potato cuttings at regular times through the year according to Buddhi Kunwar, SoL’s Community & Commercial Seed Development Advisor.
“The first cuttings can be harvested at about two months, after the production centre is initially established, then further cuttings can be taken after every two months.
“This means more farmers will be able to access good planting materials of Hohrae 1, Hohrae 2 and Hohrae 3 and these varieties produce double the yield in half the time (3-4 months) compared with local sweet potatoes (6-8 months),” he said.
MAF-SoL’s strategy behind this approach is to establish a sustainable, low-cost and decentralised distribution method in each district that every MAF District Office can assist as part of its District Seed System.
Buddhi explains that the system works by having irrigated production centres in MAF’s Betano and Loes Research Centres and Triloka Seed Warehouse and Training Centre that each year provide quality-assured disease-free cuttings to subdistrict centres where water is available to ensure cuttings can be established in October to produce high quality cuttings for planting during the rainy season.
“Suco extension officers will directly collect cuttings from the subdistrict centres and deliver them as previously scheduled to community seed production groups (CSPGs) and farmers supported by NGOs based on demand.
“Vulnerable households will also receive cuttings through a voucher system.”
There is a plan to expand the total number of production centres to 70 later this year.
This decentralised model replaces the previous distribution method, which involved MAF-SoL transporting the cuttings from 5 central centres to CSPGs and farmers in all 13 districts.
“In the 2013-14 cropping system, MAF-SoL distributed over 500,000 cuttings to farmers across all districts,” Buddhi said.
“This was a huge logistical effort involving numerous vehicles and drivers over many weeks, especially when the cuttings must also be kept damp.
“Now, it’s easier for farmers to access cuttings and there’s a reduced risk cuttings will be damaged and less viable when delivered to them”
Luis explains that farmers and others can be assured of the cuttings’ quality as the managers of all decentralised production centres have been trained by MAF-SoL.
“They were taught how to plant, weed, water and maintain the sweet potato crops and are in regular contact with their District Community Seed Coordinators who also give them advice.
“Plus most the centres have fenced land that can be moved every two to three years, secure access to water and staff to manage the sweet potato nursery,” he said.