“Food security begins with seed security”
Seeds of Life (SoL) is a program within the Timor Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF). We are funded collaboratively by MAF and the Australian Government, through Australian Aid and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The Centre for Plant Genetics and Breeding (PGB) within the University of Western Australia (UWA) is commissioned to coordinate our Australian-funded activities.
SoL started its phase 3 (SoL3) in 2011 and the program is guided by the work on variety selection that started in 2000 (SoL1) which was extended in a second phase with seed production and distribution that commenced in late 2005 and ended up working in seven of the thirteen districts in Timor Leste (SoL2). SoL3 builds on the scientific results and technical capacity built in MAF during SoL1 and SoL2.
SoL maintains a core focus on increasing yields by selecting and distributing improved varieties of superior genetic quality. It also has a secondary focus on analysing and developing strategies to overcome climate variability and change; improving agronomic practices to reduce weed burdens and increase soil fertility; reducing post harvest storage losses and improving input supply arrangements for seed.
The program concentrates on evaluating higher yielding varieties of crops currently cultivated by farmers in Timor-Leste. These are maize, sweet potato, cassava, rice and peanuts. A small amount of work is also conducted on some minor crops such as wheat, barley, potato and various bean crops.
The goal of the program is “Improved food security through increased productivity of major foodcrops“, with the objective: “65,000 crop producing households (50% of the expected number in 2015 in Timor-Leste) have access to and are routinely using improved food crop varieties“.
To achieve this, SoL3 has four components, which include the two main previous areas, but also expand work to informal seed production and distribution, and to overall seed system management. These four components build on each other in a logical manner.
Component One: Crop Identification and Development
Continues the work started by SoL1. This is the ‘engine room’ of the entire seed system, and must continue in order to address new challenges and opportunities.
Variety evaluation work continues to concentrate on the major crops of maize, rice, sweet potato, peanuts and cassava. A small amount of research is also devoted to improving staple crops growing in the poverty affected upland areas (e.g. legumes, wheat, barley, and potatoes). An extra dimension of research effort in recent years has been on food crops that may adapt to climate change such as more variable rainfall and higher temperatures.
Component Two: Source Seed and Commercial Seed Quality Control
Develops the certified seed system, which SoL2 initiated. Production of certified seed is an essential component of any national seed system but is expensive to produce. Its production is therefore targeted towards supplying the community and commercial seed production activities both directly through SoL and with NGOs plus other organizations involved in seed production. There is an increased emphasis on cost-recovery and a rationalization of seed processing/storage infrastructure to improve production efficiency.
Component Three: Community and Commercial Seed Development
Strengthens commercial and non-commercial channels for producing SoL seed, and its distribution to farmers. This component is new for SoL3, and will use outputs from components 1 and 2.
Under this component, a range of new approaches are supported to begin building the foundation of a commercial seed industry in Timor Leste and hence increase farmers’ access to improved varieties, outside of government channels. These include the production of seed by community seed production groups (CSPGs), and the production of seed by registered Commercial Seed Producers (CSPs).
Component Four: Seed System Management.
Builds MAF’s capacity to strategically manage the overall seed system. This will involve establishing planning and monitoring systems, promotional activities, policy engagement, and cross-cutting strategies for addressing gender and environmental concerns. This component is also new to SoL3.
SoL3 is being implemented over a five year period (01 February, 2011-31 January, 2016). During the first year, activities were concentrated in the Districts of Aileu, Baucau, Viqueque, Bononaro, Manufahi, Ainaro and Liquica. During the second year (2012-2013) Component 2 and Component 3 expanded their activities into three adjoining districts of Lautem, Manututo and Ermera, and in 2013 program activities started in Covalima and Dili as well. Raising the capacity of MAF to manage a national seed system (Component 4) will include MAF personnel from all thirteen of Timor Leste’s districts.
The vision for the end of Phase 3 is to have the foundations of a national seed system for Timor Leste established and capable of providing a high level of access to seed of improved varieties to farmers throughout the country. Within this vision: (i) MAF is competently managing an adaptive research program that is regularly identifying and releasing improved varieties; (ii) MAF is competently managing source and certified seed production and processing activities at an appropriate scale; (iii) MAF is effectively distributing certified seed in a manner maximises scale-up benefits; (iv) Community and commercial seed production and distribution is stimulated nation-wide through the establishment of community seed production groups (CSPGs) and through registered Commercial Seed Producers; and (v) MAF is effectively managing overall development of the national seed system for Timor-leste.