Joanna Hewitt is the current chair of the ACIAR board. While on holidays visiting family assigned in Timor-Leste, she set aside a day to travel and see firsthand some of the work of the Seeds of Life program.

Joanna Hewitt with sweet potato farmers.

“It is wonderful to see how closely local farmers and the Seeds of Life team are working together to boost village production. Careful attention is paid to farmers concerns and opinions and the rapport between them and team members is evident. I was also really impressed with the active role farmers’ play in measuring results of field trials”, she said when visiting Seeds of Life activities last week.

Seeds of Life is helping farmers produce more food for their families by giving them access to higher yielding varieties of a range of food crops, including corn, rice, sweet potato and cassava.

In the Liquica district (suco Maumeta) Joanna visited a community seed production plot of the newly introduced sweet potato variety Horhae 1. This yields twice as much as traditional varieties and in about half the time.

The local group said they were surprised at the large size and sweetness of the tubers of this new variety. “When harvesting came around last wet season we didn’t know what to expect, but the results were astounding” a local farmer said.

Joanna participating in the rice harvest.

They are now irrigating a second generation of plants which will be used as planting material next cropping season. Joanna commented “As seed production at village level expands under the current third phase of Seeds of Life we hope to see a lasting improvement in food security.”

Further west along the coast, Joanna participated in the harvest of an on-farm rice experiment where researchers compared the local rice variety (Membramo), the released rice variety Nakroma and a potential new variety.

Joanna joined the local rice farming family in harvesting, threshing and cleaning the three varieties of seed.

The introduced Nakroma variety wiped the floor with the competition, producing a yield of 6 tonnes per hectare, much more than the 4 tonnes per hectare produced by the local variety.

Over a cup of coffee, farmers shared their opinions about the new varieties with the researchers, saying they liked the fact the recommended variety Nakroma had a good yield and was delicious to eat.

After the discussion the farmers sent a special thank you to ACIAR and the Seeds of Life team, saying they enjoyed researchers working with them, listening to them and assisting them to grow more and better food.