Over 65,000 farming families now have access to 19 improved varieties of high-yielding certified seed for food crops.
What started as one project to improve food security in Timor-Leste with higher-yielding crop varieties sprouted into three major projects extending over 16 years with ACIAR funds of more than $38 million (AUD).
The Seeds of Life program, comprising three projects between 2000 and 2016, has benefited thousands of farming families in Timor-Leste by introducing new varieties of major staple food crops and establishing a national certified seed system so village farmers can continue to access high-quality seed and improve crop production.
Trials of irrigated rice, maize, peanuts, sweet potato, mung bean and climbing bean have brought about varieties that are more tolerant to insect pests and disease as well as being able to withstand periodic drought and reduced soil fertility. Yields of introduced and adopted crop varieties show remarkable increases over local varieties in all 13 of the nation’s districts. For example maize yield increases on farmer fields are 50%, peanut 54%, cassava 40%, rice 24% and sweet potato an impressive 130%. Farmers are also rapidly adopting improved mung beans and climbing beans released in 2016.
An estimated 65,000 farming households now have access to improved seed and planting materials, and 19 improved varieties have been released. Certified seed infrastructure has been established, with over 1,200 community seed production groups, 65 community seed houses and three seed laboratories. Almost half the households in the surveyed districts are growing improved varieties.
Among the program’s achievements is the establishment of the Timor-Leste National Seed System for Released Varieties, which provides Timor-Leste farming families with secure access to good quality seed from proven crop varieties. High-yielding certified seed production ensures growers obtain the best crops each year, which farmer groups can access to then locally produce and store community seeds.
Dr Harry Nesbitt, the project’s leader, says that because the project went for so long, it was able to enhance local research and development skills, significantly improve physical infrastructure and establish a sustainable system to utilise the skills and infrastructure after the program terminated, albeit at a reduced level.
The program wrapped up in 2016 with the TimorAg2016 Conference, but ongoing national benefits accrue through a reliable supply of new seed varieties emerging from the research and development program embedded within government and private sectors. ‘Importantly, the agronomic research, seed multiplication and distribution system is sustainable, ensuring the legacy of the program lives on,’ says Dr Nesbitt.