After a bumpy six hour drive from our head office in Dili, we finally reached our first destination on my recent field visit in Timor-Leste: the village of Maununu. High up in the hills of Ainaro district, across a sometimes treacherous river (as we learned on this visit), this village of 240 households is one of the target villages for Mercy Corps’ EC-funded SECURE program.
SECURE is working to increase the food security and incomes of vulnerable communities in Ainaro and Manufahi districts. In a country where over 80 percent of the population relies on agriculture for both food and income, and where 65 percent of the population is chronically malnourished, the program is working to tackle very serious issues.
On this day, we visited with two corn farmer groups that are being trained by the program on improved farming practices. Augustina Bianco is a mother of six and eager participant in this training. When I asked to interview her and take some photos, she gestured me over to where she was working and began to vigorously hack away at the earth with her hoe, saying “make sure you get this with the camera!” And so I did.
Augustina’s hacking away at the earth as part of the group’s training and practice of land cleaning on their corn demonstration plot. Mercy Corps and our partner in Ainaro, Hametin Ita Rai (HIR), are working with these farmers to improve their techniques.
In my conversation with Augustina, I asked about how she grew corn before the project, and she answered, “I just used the traditional method,” and then she explained, this means “just throw the seeds and let nature happen.” Now, with training, the farmer groups are learning about how to maximize the production from their lands. This includes knowledge about proper planting methods such as separating corn sufficiently to ensure the plants do not compete with one another, and also things like utilizing improved seed varieties and learning to select the best seeds to store for future planting.
Other women joined in our conversation and added that things are “better now than before,” now that “responsibility is shared” and they are “planning more to the future,” whereas previously they had all worked alone and with little strategy. One woman named Albina Maria Almeda also talked about how this experience and training has inspired her to think about business and starting her own kiosk in the village; an exciting idea for a village that is so remote and without immediate access to any vendors of small consumables.
These two demonstration plots are still growing in Maununu and, with the right training and practice of their new techniques, the farmers there expect to see much healthier stocks of corn that yield more ears, in just a couple of month’s time. Then the next issue to tackle will be improving their post harvest handling skills and improving their storage capacity — read the recent blog entry from SECURE Program Manager Wahyu on that topic for more details!