(Tetun) Women play a key role working alongside men in the fields – often weeding, watering and harvesting – and now women are increasingly becoming members and leaders of farming groups in Timor-Leste.

Research by the Food and Agriculture Organisation shows that when both women and men participate in farming, this helps eradicate hunger, provide food security and contribute to the livelihoods of rural communities.

In the lead up to International Women’s Day on 8 March, MAF-SoL is showcasing a female farmer that is successfully leading a 27-member commercial seed producer (CSP) group growing Sele maize in Bobonaro municipality.

Isabel Pereira, Chief of Lakabasi CSP in Daulelo aldeia, Meligo suco, Cailaco administrative post, is the first woman in her community to chair a farmers’ group.

“Out of the five CSPs in Bobonaro, Lakabasi is the only one with a female leader.

“Many women in my village previously felt they couldn’t be a group leader because they use the local language Kemak in their day-to-day lives so can find it difficult to speak Tetun and feel embarrassed,” she said.

“My message to women is ‘be like me, and do not be afraid or ashamed if you are approached to become a leader’. I am ready to help them by encouraging them and inviting them to any training given by MAF-SoL or the extension officer.”

Isabel Pereira, Chief of CSP Lacabasi © Yessy Betty/Seeds of Life

Isabel Pereira, Chief of Lakabasi CSP, is the first woman to chair a farmers’ group in her community © Yessy Betty/Seeds of Life

Key to Isabel’s success as a group chief is her ability to balance household chores, motherly duties and her work in the field – a common challenge faced by female farmers.

“As leader of the group I have to divide my time between working in the group and for my family. I had to create a schedule so that mornings are for group activities and afternoons are for my family. My husband, who is also a group member, fully supports me as the group chief.”

Isabel was elected chief when it changed from the Guilara community seed production group, established in 2011, to being the Lakabasi commercial seed producer group in late 2013.

“It is my responsibility as leader of the group to organise monthly meetings, coordinate the work and to share information among group members.

“In my view, they chose me as leader because they value the work I do and believe I organise things well.”

My message to women is ‘be like me, and do not be afraid or ashamed if you are approached to become a leader’

But leading a group with 18 women and 9 men is not all smooth sailing Isabel explains.

“The main problem I see as leader of the group is that sometimes we do not listen to each other because we have many members.

“Although it’s sometimes difficult to organise the members, I am happy when we work together, listen to one other and respect each other.”

In 2014 the group produced 980 kg of Sele maize seed and received $1,470 income from selling their seed to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Now in their second year as a commercial seed producer, Lakabasi have expanded their plot size and are hoping for good yields once again.

“Later this month we will harvest our maize crop. We’re expecting to produce up to six tonnes of quality Sele seeds.

“We will sell our maize seed to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, agriculture shops and NGOs. We also plan to share with people who live far away so they have access to good seed,” she said.

Members of Lakabasi CSP, now in its second year of commercial seed production, with MAF-SoL Advisor Wayan Tambun © Yessy Betty/Seeds of Life

Members of Lakabasi CSP, now in its second year of commercial seed production, with MAF-SoL Advisor Wayan Tambun © Yessy Betty/Seeds of Life

Isabel is happy that the group members can make money from commercial farming activities.

“Our members earn income by selling their maize seeds at the market, in the farm shop and to their neighbours.

“We also set up savings and loans activities in September 2014 with support from Seeds of Life, which is helping members better save their money and access loans when they need it.”

So what does the future hold for Isabel?

“In the future, I still want to be leader of the CSP so the group can be better and do more seed production.

“I hope to use my profits from seed sales to help me build a house, send my children to school, buy medicine for sick family members and open a small kiosk.”

The future is indeed looking bright for Isabel Pereira, Lakabasi CSP and their community.


Female seed producers in Seeds of Life

MAF-SoL actively encourage women to participate in seed production activities as shown in the table below.

No. groups No. members % female members % female leaders
Commercial seed producers (CSPs) 58 1,500+ 31% 14%
Community seed production groups (CSPGs) 1,200+ 15,000+ 32% 9%

See how MAF-SoL is mainstreaming gender across all their activities in the 20-minute film ‘
Women farmers sowing seeds for success’.