Research Sows Seeds of Life

Melissa Parke
August 28, 2013

Francisca de Jesus Leite is a widow and lives with her children in the village of Ulmera, in Liquica district, Timor-Leste. Like many Timorese subsistence farmers, Francisca struggled to grow enough food to feed her family until Australia commenced the Seeds of Life program in 2000. Since then, Francisca and thousands like her have been working with Australian support to help turn this situation around.

Through the Seeds of Life Program – a joint initiative between AusAID, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the Timorese government – we are trialling and developing higher yielding seed varieties that have helped Timorese farmers to grow more food to feed their families.As a result of this Australian research, Timorese farmers are now growing as much as 80 per cent more of Timor-Leste’s five staple crops – rice, cassava, maize, sweet potato and peanuts. In 2012, it is estimated that up to 50,000 additional tonnes of food was grown as a result of the Seeds of Life program. This is helping to improve nutrition and lessen the impact of the hungry season for thousands of families.

Earlier this month during my first trip to Timor-Leste, I was privileged to visit Liquica district and saw first-hand the resilience and strength of local farmers who were participating in the third phase of the Seeds of Life Program. Like people everywhere, the women I met as part of the local Community Seed Producer Group yearn for a brighter future for themselves and their children.The profound effect that this program has had on the community was clear as I was shown the seed store by proud women who shared their stories of empowerment. So far, around 33,500 Timorese farming families have benefited from the Seeds of Life program – roughly a quarter of all farming households. By the start of 2016, this number is expected to double to 65,000, meaning that half of all Timorese farmers will soon have the means to move beyond subsistence farming.Through continued collaboration between the Australian and Timorese governments, we will continue to help provide farming families with the means to escape poverty and achieve lasting food security.

These days, Francisca is producing a surplus which she can sell at her local market, and is now head of Moris Foun Agricultura (New Life Agriculture), a community seed producer group.The additional income has helped buy more seeds for future crops as well as pay for the education and health needs of her children. Some in Francisca’s village have even set up small businesses courtesy of their increased income.These businesses are also benefiting from other investments Australia is making in Timor-Leste.

Australia’s Roads for Development Program will see the rehabilitation of 90 kilometres and the maintenance of 200 kilometres of rural roads throughout Timor-Leste.The program will improve access to markets for farmers and bring further opportunities for employment and enterprise.It is the catalytic effect of integrated programs such as these that ensure that Timor-Leste can continue on a path of poverty alleviation and development.Ours is a development partnership that people on both sides of the Timor Sea can be proud of. It is transforming lives and making a difference for hundreds of thousands of Timorese. 


PN Member Melissa Parke is the current Minister for International Development, Chair of the UN Parliamentary Group Chair of the UNCEF Parliamentary Association, and Chair of the Australian Chapter of the Parliamentarians for Global Action.


Photo by CARE Austrailia.

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