Seeds of Hope in Rural Timor-Leste

CWS Timor-Leste | March 7, 2019

Paulinho weeds his farmer group’s communal garden. Photo: CWS

Paulinho Martinez, like most of his neighbors in Gariana, makes a living from the land by farming and raising animals. For the past year, Paulinho and CWS have been working together to help families within his community to work smarter in order to improve the quality of their lives. In talking to CWS team members a few weeks ago, Paulinho taught a bit of a history lesson: “In the past, the May to November dry season has been my time to hustle: I would sell the animals I raised during rainy season, and plant the vegetables I knew would get a good price at market. But, since it was the dry season, my work was extra hard because I had to haul the water from quite far away to irrigate the vegetables. But that was my life in the past.”

Now Paulinho has learned to hustle at a different game: leading two CWS-supported Farmer Groups. “I am grateful for the experience to lead these groups; it is a big responsibility for me. I have learned so much from CWS staff about more modern farming techniques than I have used in the past, including why and how to plant a more diverse crop, and working with plants differently during rainy season, I am glad I get to share this information with others. I want to do well for my community; but, sometimes, when we face problems, it is hard for me not to get stressed about it.”

When asked to talk more about some of the problems they face, Paulinho opens the gate to one Farmer Group’s communal garden, which is now lush with rainy season produce: tomatoes, bitter gourd, morning glory, corn and pumpkins. Paulinho walks to the edge of the garden and points to one of the problems: vegetable seedlings that are half-dead. “We planted some Asian cabbage using seeds from CWS; but this year’s rains ruined the plants.” As Paulinho looks solemnly at the seedlings, he explains, “This was our first time planting Asian cabbage and we are sad it didn’t grow. But we have figured out that it didn’t grow because of the land.” With this statement, Paulinho grabs a stick and starts turning the soil around one seedling to show that it is now thick mud. For this vegetable to grow, “the land must hold moisture; but, in this plot, the water doesn’t absorb well. So, we have decided to wait until dry season to add compost to improve the soil and plant the remaining seeds. We expect more success after we do this.”

Before the Timor Zero Hunger project, many villages in the project’s impact area didn’t have any connections to outside support. And since the inputs that CWS has to share are limited, our Timor-Leste team is happy to see that Paulinho is careful to manage the resources carefully. In wrapping up our garden-side conversation, Paulinho says this: “We didn’t plant all of our new seeds at once because we wanted to test out the new varieties along with some new farming practices. We didn’t want to waste any seeds by using them all at once, so we agreed to this choice.” Suggesting that the Farmer Groups don’t want to completely rely on outside help now that they have some, and recalling that not all that long ago they were complexly on their own, Paulinho says, “We remembered that we know how to stand on our own. And, we thought it was important for us to save some seeds, which we did.” Now, in addition to planting the Asian cabbage seeds in better soil next year, the group wants to learn how to save seeds from the vegetables they already grow, and continue getting by, and maybe evening doing better than that – with a little help from some friends.

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