(Tetum) It’s a wrongly held belief that farming families in Timor-Leste only plant rice and have one income source.

In actuality, most farming families have incredibly diverse farms and livelihoods, which is essential for managing risk in Timor’s tough agricultural environment.

The average family will often plant a wide range of crops including grains, tubers, tree crops and vegetables; keep livestock such as pigs and chickens, buffalo or Bali cattle; and do forestry management on their property.

Rural families use forests as a source of firewood and building materials. They also harvest wild foods from the surrounding forest and grasslands, particularly during the “hungry season” – the time of year furthest from the previous harvest, when the next rainy season crop is still maturing.

Manuel da Silva with some of his Noi Mutin harvest

Manuel da Silva with some of his Noi Mutin harvest © Luis Almeida / Seeds of Life

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Liz Rinaudo with MAF-SoL Research Coordinator Luis Almeida at Manuel’s farm © Luis Almeida / Seeds of Life

The same farming family might earn income by selling grain, horticulture and plantation crops; firewood and building materials; livestock fed on surplus grain; and food products such as coated peanuts.

This diversity was brought to life last week when over 130 participants of World Vision’s ‘Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration’ (FMNR) conference visited Manuel da Silva’s farm in Suco Fahiria of Aileu District.

“Manuel is a great example of the varied nature of Timorese farming,” said MAF-SoL Research Coordinator Luis Almeida who attended the field visit.

“On his one hectare of land he grows the improved maize and rice varieties Sele, Noi Mutin and Nakroma, which he keeps for home consumption.

“He also grows cinnamon, clove, avocado, mango, teak wood and mahogany trees from his own seedlings, which he planted two years ago and will sell in the future,” he said.

“Then on four hectares of group land, he and the other 24 members are using FMNR techniques to regenerate tress and shrubs. This involves selecting one or more shoots growing from a stump and removing the rest.

“The purpose of this is to bring back the original land cover and prevent erosion while inter-cropping with a range of trees, pineapple and cassava,” Luis said.

Manuel’s story exemplifies the collaboration that exists between government programs and NGOs working to develop the agriculture sector says MAF-SoL Team Leader John Dalton.

“The improved staple crops Manuel plants are Seeds of Life varieties, the tree seedlings are from the Portuguese Mission and he’s working with World Vision to regenerate native tree cover using FMNR”.

“Seeds of Life’s work complements FMNR as farmers that use the improved seeds can increase their yield in the same space, thus reducing pressure on the land,” he said.

Seeds of Life Team Leader John Dalton at the FMNR Conference field visit in Aileu

Seeds of Life Team Leader John Dalton (R) at the FMNR Conference field visit in Aileu © Luis Almeida / Seeds of Life

In its goal to improve food security through the use of improved food crops, MAF-SoL collaborates with a wide range of local and international NGOs, other donor projects and their advisors.

“Just as farmers often work with multiple NGOs, so too does the team at Seeds of Life,” says John.

These partners are vital in helping MAF-SoL distribute seed, encourage adoption of new technologies such as velvet bean and to promote good practices to farmers.

“For example, World Vision and CARE are key partners who help to establish and support farmer groups and distribute seed of improved varieties.

“We also provide seeds and cuttings of improved varieties to local NGOs to distribute to their farmer groups.

“Mercy Corps and ILO are strengthening small agricultural input stores in district towns and linking them to MAF-SoL registered farmers associations so they have a market for their commercial seed.

“We’ve also worked with OHM (part of Hasatil) to survey farmers in the districts and are working with JICA and RAIBEA (previously USC-Canada) on participatory land use planning and community natural resource management.”

MAF-SoL staff with other conference participants at Manuel's farm

MAF-SoL staff with other conference participants at Manuel’s farm © Luis Almeida / Seeds of Life

Another major partnership is focused on teaching farmers about improved seed storage.

“Farmers often suffer post-harvest losses of around 30% so we’re working with the Maize Storage Project of MAF-IFAD to promote the distribution of airtight storage drums. This is done together with samples of improved maize varieties and simple extension messages,” John said.

The end result of such collaboration is that farmers benefit from better access to quality seed of diverse varieties and a range of locally proven production technologies, innovations and information.

SoL and other MAF development partners also benefit from helping each other’s programs be more effective through the exchange of lessons-learned and taking opportunities to collaborate.

This is all with the aim to better assist farming families and their rural communities improve their livelihoods and lives.