In FRB’s Timor Leste-Viqueque program, community leaders ensure buy-in by encouraging participants to try new techniques and seed varieties, give feedback, and express their views. Among the program’s focuses are making high-yielding corn seed available, teaching appropriate farming technologies, and coming up with effective grain storage to stop post-harvest losses to rats, insects and mold. For example, rather than hanging cobs from trees in the traditional manner, farmers are encouraged to store their grain and seed in airtight containers of various sizes such as plastic, jug-like “jerry cans,” zip-closed polyethylene “Grain Pro bags,” new or recycled drums, or in silos for water-, pest-, and fungal resistance. No one solution has been perfect: rats have been known to gnaw through the plastic, and they haven’t been able to get the recycled oil drums clean enough even through several washings. But the collective ingenuity of the community is finding solutions to these challenges.
One man, Ovaldo, was interested in finding a use for his recycled oil drum as well as preventing post-harvest losses. He placed all his jerry cans and Grain Pro bags inside the drum, making an impenetrable barrier against rodents that still protects the grain from residual petroleum odors. Ana, a neighbor, alarmed by reports of rats chewing through jerry cans and stealing grain, realized that the cans were light enough to hang from her rafters from sticks or ropes, out of reach of the rodents. Community leaders have introduced both these innovations to all project households to good effect.
Respect for tradition
The program isn't strictly about yields, however: there is room for expression of cultural values as well. While participants are eager to learn more about agricultural practices that improve their corn yields and protect them against pests, some have strong feelings about the corn varieties that have sustained them through generations. For example, Armindo, a program farmer, shows interest in the Sele seed released by the government of Timor Leste, which can increase yields by 50%, but deeply honors the traditional variety. He says, “I like Sele seed. It is strong and the yield from last year’s harvest was much higher than the variety I normally plant. It required very little work and I am thankful to the program for teaching me about it, and about planting and storage, too. I am very happy to have 10kg of Sele seed to plant this year, but I do not want to plant more than that. It is a very good seed and it tastes very good, but my ancestors have given me the traditional variety. I am very grateful to them that they have provided me and my family with food all these years. I cannot stop growing that variety. It is up to my family to conserve it in order to give honor to our ancestors, and we would never want to forget it.”
Timor Leste-Viqueque encompasses 1 community, 375 households, and 1650 individuals