Nicolao, a farmer in the Timor Leste - Viqueque program, lives with his wife Martinha and their two children. Each year he prepares his soil and plants maize, just like the other farmers in this remote and rural part of the country. Maize is the staple grain for most families here, and Nicolao depends on a good harvest so his family can have enough to eat throughout the year.
Nicolao plants what seeds are available to him, which are not the improved varieties, so he often has low yields when it is time to harvest. After harvest he stores the grain as best he can, but he still loses between 25% and 30% of his crop each year to mold, rodents, and weevils. There just is never enough to last throughout the year. Some of his neighbors sell their maize right after harvest. Although the prices are low, they at least receive something for their work instead of watching it rot, or be eaten by rodents.
This year the local government’s agricultural center (CIACS) began a new program with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to support the work of small-holder farmers like Nicolao. CRS had seen that many different NGOs had tried to distribute different storage containers, but that it seemed that there was no consensus from the communities as to which storage method worked best. Together CIACS and CRS began working with Nicolao to improve his yields and to reduce post-harvest losses.
Nicolao received improved variety seeds, attended trainings, and paid a small amount for different types of storage containers. He planted the new variety of maize and was impressed and surprised when he was able to harvest 37% more maize from the new seeds when compared to his older seeds.
Afterwards he attended a training that helped him to understand the importance of drying grain to a moisture content of 14% so that it would not rot in the container. Nicolao had always used the bounce, bite, and bottle tests to gauge how dry the maize was. He was happy to see that his methods were just as accurate as a digital moisture meter. After the training he paid $10 and received a 200L metal drum, jerry cans, plastic GrainPro Grainbags, and use of a community storage bin made by a local roofing company. Nicalao and the other 74 households in the program are now evaluating the value of each storage option.
While Nicolao is still waiting to see which option is best for reducing losses his neighbors have already made some unexpected comments on the storage methods. While CIACS expected the metal drums to be very popular, some people have not used them because they don’t believe that they are clean enough for storing food. Others in the community are skeptical that the GrainPro Grainbags or jerry cans will be chewed through by rats and that grain may need to be dried more prior to storage when using these options. It seems like most people in the community like a combination of community storage for grain and a mix of other options for home storage of grains.
In January CRS and CIACS will be holding a second round of community focus groups to identify which storage methods are best for their context. By using an approach that has the community feedback guiding the direction of the program they have been able to quickly achieve high levels of adoption for new storage techniques in just over a year.
Including the community in the decision making process can be a challenge at times. Having staff that speaks the local dialects and that is willing to travel the long distances to some of the households is important. Planning around the rainy season, when mobility is limited means that taking seasons into account when deciding on the timing of activities is important. Also, flexibility in the program budget is needed to be able to respond to the decisions that the community makes for storage options.
Alex Morse, FRB Staff