The Minister of Agriculture, the European Union Ambassador, local leaders and representatives of the government and FAO have gathered for a learning event on Conservation Agriculture held in Betano Suco, on 27.July, organized by Manufahi Municipality Administrator, Mr. Arantes Isaac Sarmento. The conservation agriculture initiative is supported by the European Union through the ‘Pro-Resilience II’ project implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) and FAO.
Participants at the event, including farmers from Covalima and Manufahi, were able to observe conservation agriculture at first-hand in farmers’ fields. The technique integrates three practices: ‘no-burning’, ‘no-ploughing’ and ‘growing a cover crop’. These agriculture practices preserve soil fertility and open the possibility for permanent cultivation of agricultural land that can replace the prevailing unsustainable shifting ‘slash and burn’ system. Visiting farmers from 3 post-administrative and 2 Sucos in Covalima are keen to replicate the CA model on their own land with guidance from the local authorities, MAF and FAO.
The Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, H.E. Pedro dos Reis, underlined that the Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated the vulnerability of global food value-chain and the need to invest in resilient local food systems. However, expanding more efforts in producing staple food would further deteriorate the Timor-Leste’s environment, particularly deforestation and land degradation, given the prevailing shifting ‘slash and burn’ farming practices. The different cropping itinerary under CA provide concrete options to farmers to increase sustainably their production while preserving the forest, land and water resources that are all necessary to our national well-being.
The Minister said that the ‘Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries can support farmers to produce more food in a sustainable manner. Yet, market is the main challenges to farmers. I invite other Government line institutions, Development Partners and the private sector to explore any opportunities to expand market access to our farmers’.
Manufahi Municipality Administrator, Mr. Arantes Isaac Sarmento, outlined his vision for agriculture production in his jurisdiction with ambitious plans to convert existing farming practices into CA. He said that ‘fuel for land preparation in traditional farming amounts to 40 USD per hectare for the Government while it only costs 5 USD for CA land preparation, using smaller 2 wheels tractors’. Ambitious plans to scale up CA in Manufahi was echoed by Covalima Municipality Administrator, Mr. Afonso Nogueira who envisions to ‘convert all abandoned land in Suai into CA farming. He plans to start working immediately with all stakeholders as of the next cropping season’.
The Ambassador of the European Union, H.E. Andrew Jacobs said that the EU is impressed with farmers skills in Manufahi and commended the leadership of the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Municipality Administrators of Manufahi and Covalima. ‘The EU is proud of the cooperation with the Government of Timor-Leste and FAO on this effort to achieve sustainable and resilient local food systems. This is particularly important given changes to conditions brought by climate change and the economic challenges of Covid-19’, said the Ambassador.
Representing FAO, Mr. Dageng Liu, underlined the results obtained in Manufahi and other Municipalities are very encouraging as practical solutions are now available to farmers. ‘More support from the State Budget and assistance from development partners is required to scale up the technology to address unsustainable farming practices that are prevalent in Timor-Leste. In particular, conservation agricultures eliminates the need to burn forests and crop residues for the purpose of food production and can lead the agriculture sector to a path of sustainable growth’.
Local farmers and the community offered a warm welcome to the visitors, including traditional dance, Tebe dai. Guests also included the State Secretary of Civil Protection, the Acting Executive Secretary of Timor-Leste NDA for the Green Climate Fund, the Director of MAF Agriculture, Horticulture and Extension and the Director of Agriculture Research, Statistics and Geographical Information, a Delegation from Covalima led by the Municipality Administrator, the Directors of Manufahi and Covalima Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, representatives of the famers group in Betano and staffs from FAO Timor-Leste.