“Towards a sustainable national seed system for Timor Leste”
The vision for the end of the SoL 3 program in 2015 is to establish the foundation of a National Seed System (PDF). Such a national seed system should be capable to provide farmers throughout the country with good access to seed or cuttings of improved varieties of food crops. To achieve this, the following core activities will be implemented:
The research component aims to identify and try out new varieties of staple food crops that will help farmers grow more food.
We find new varieties by testing some recently imported varieties with the local varieties that farmers grow now. This testing of new varieties first occurs on a set of five research stations. When one or two varieties are identified on the research station, they are released for testing in farmer’s fields. Each year Seeds of Life works with hundreds of farming families, to identify the best and most suitable varieties for them.
After testing for a few years, farmers help choose which varieties should be released by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and distributed all through the country. In this way the variety testing team has an impact across the whole country.
Formal Seed Production
The supply of quality seed of superior food crop varieties is a key factor for a successful agriculture sector. Thus, the seed production and distribution component aims to ensure that the seed industry operates efficiently and effectively, resulting in quality seed being delivered to the farmers.
It is through this component that the varieties released by SoL are produced and distributed to farmers through structured distribution channels established by MAF, NGOs and other organizations as well as through On-Farm Demonstration Trials (OFDT) or by directly assisting progressive farmers. These activities are an initial implementation of a seed program in Timor-Leste.
The formal seed production and distribution component has seed officers working in six districts (Aileu, Baucau, Bobonaro, Liquiça, Manufahi and Viqueque) to produce commercial sed. The seed officers are supported by one seed researcher based at Betano research station who maintains higher seed classes such as nucleus, breeder and foundation seed. The seed officers also produce seeds with selected seeds growers in their districts.
Informal Seed Production
This new component is strengthening the “informal” or community seed production groups to produce quality seed at the village level and for distribution to local farmers. This involves multiple strategies to increase farmers’ access to SoL varieties, and build the foundation for more demand-driven market channels for seed production and distribution to develop in the informal sector.
The Suco Extension Officers (SEOs) play a crucial role in the implementation of this component. They are instrumental in mobilising and establishing Community Seed Production Groups (CSPGs) who use certified seed from the formal seed component to produce and store quality seed at the community level, thereby solving the twin problems if dependency on outside sources of uncertain type and quality and late delivery. The motto of this component: Food security begins with seed security!
A related objective of this component is to ensure that CSPGs are linked with market outlets and selling surplus informal seed.
Climate Change Research
Extreme weather events and high-rainfall variability leading to erratic drought and flooding have historically caused significant yield losses of staple food crops such as maize and rice in Timor Leste. According to Seeds of Life research in 2010, climate change is likely to increase temperature and rainfall averages towards 2050, while the consensus within the climate change science community is that climate change will likely increase the frequency of extreme events. Together, these increases will affect the ability of Timorese farmers to successfully cultivate crops and feed their households and may dictate changes to the cultivars, farming systems and locations required to produce enough food to meet food security targets.
SoL embarked on analysing and developing strategies to overcome climate variability and change. This is done through collaboration with the climate change science community in Timor Leste and overseas as well as through accessing various public domain information sources from the internet published by some of the world’s leading institutions for climatic research. With the data gathered from the internet, it has been possible to augment the scant observed data available for Timor Leste with a multitude of calculated baseline data and predictions to 2080.
Social Science Research and Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E)
The social science and M&E unit in SoL has a dual function. The social science research is complementary to the agricultural research, and helps to generate knowledge and insights on social and economic factors that influence the behaviour of farmers to adopt or not adopt the new food crop varieties.
The key objective of monitoring and evaluation is ‘to prove and improve’. By observing and studying how program activities in the different components are being implemented, the program can keep track what progress is made towards achieving the end-of-program outcomes, and give proof to key program stakeholders that the program is being implemented as planned. Monitoring and evaluation also provides feedback to the SoL staff managing the different program components on emerging problems and issues, so that corrective measures can be taken to improve program implementation.
Training and staff development is an important element in SoL’s effort to increase the productivity of major food crops and establish a sustainable national seed system in Timor Leste. The primary targets are the staff of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries associated with managing a national seed system. Trainings cover a wide range of subjects such as English, Agronomy, Mathematics, Statistics, Seed Production, Agricultural Economics, Gender, Communication and Technology Transfer, Administration and Management are held all throughout the year using different training methods in-country and overseas.
On-going experiential learning and locally held short courses are regularly being delivered by SoL Advisors as well as local NGOs and experts from overseas and in-country. Staff are also provided opportunities to attend long and short courses in Australia and other countries including regional and international agricultural research centers like CGIAR.
SoL has been providing training for about a decade now and several assessments revealed that considerable progress has been made. Competencies of MAF staff embedded in the SoL program are steadily improving over the years.
Given the vital role women play in food and seed production and related activities the implications for food security, SoL continues to focus on gender equality and women’s empowerment in all aspects of program implementation.
A strategic framework along with concrete actions for each component to include gender awareness and women’s empowerment is guiding activities in collaboration with the MAF Gender Working Group.
This new addition to the SoL program is revitalizing MAFs Agricultural Information Department to use the range of media including district community radio to promote the value of secure access to good seeds, what MAF-SoL outcomes are being achieved and the critical importance of adequate MAF budget if the food security objectives in the National Strategic Plan are to be achieved.