Traditional Turiscai terrace.

Recently, the Climate Change Team in Seeds of Life inspected four districts in the western region of East Timor on the use of terracing for growing various crops. For the purposes of this survey, a terrace is a flat bench that follows the contour of a hillside. We concentrated on terraces for horticultural and staple crops excluding rice paddies.

In the highland region of Turiscai, farmers have used terracing technology since ancient times. They use the rocks in the field to build up walls to create flat areas along the hillside. On these terraces they can grow corn, beans, red beans, pumpkin, sweet potato and cassava in the wet season. In the dry season they plant vegetables such as mustard, onion, garlic and carrots.

In Emera, farmer Donatos Bere has considerable experience in using terracing in his village of Malabe. Terracing protects his land from erosion and landslides and can be used efficiently from year to year. With the existing terraces he can provide for his family and pay the school fees for his children.

Using a terrace to grow cabbage.

In Liquica, some groups have combined terracing with the use of plastic lined pools from CARE to irrigate their crops. This allows farmers to grow crops throughout the year. They also have the possibility of growing fish in the pools which could then have the added benefit of providing fertiliser dissolved in the water from the fish faeces.

For Oecussi, the concept of terracing for growing horticultural crops successfully is relatively new. A lot of farmers still rely on the slash and burn technique of agriculture where forested areas are cut down to open up fertile soil for gardens. After a few years this will cause soil fertility to decrease and the weed burden increase to a point where they would move onto another area. This practice is not sustainable for a growing population.

One of Liquica’s CARE irrigation pools.

Farmers in all the areas struggle with access to markets. Due to the poor condition of roads, it is difficult for the farmers to get their produce to towns and into Dili. Transport prices are relatively high and the produce is prone to damage on the rough roads.

Terracing is hard work to set up. Farmers recognise the ability of the terrace to reduce the flow of water over the land in heavy rainfall. This means nutrients in the soil are less likely to be washed away.  If climate change predictions are correct, we expect to see more intense rainfall and hotter temperatures. Terracing technology will help farmers to adapt to the changes of climate and an increasing population.