Now more than ever, as the COVID-19 crisis puts vulnerable rural communities under increasing financial strain, the European Union reaffirms its commitment to the sustainable management of forests in Timor-Leste. The island is highly dependent on subsistence agriculture, mountainous topography, food insecurity, and has high rate of deforestation and degradation of natural resources.
Since 2018, Ai ba Futuru” – “Trees for the Future” - a programme financed by the European Union with EUR 14 million and co-funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), has been working with the Timorese authorities and small holder farmers to help preserve forests, to strengthen the economy, and to improve the livelihoods of rural communities. It targets marginalised families in 40 selected villages in the municipalities of Manatuto, Baucau, Viqueque and Lautem.
Since the start of the programme Ai ba Futuru has planted more than one million seedlings and aims to plant three million trees in Timor-Leste by 2022.
With the onset of the rainy season, the best time to grow trees, Ai ba Futuru has resumed the distribution of seedlings to community nurseries and small farmers.
On 13 January, to celebrate the Timorese National Day of Sandalwood and Forests, Ai ba Futuru delivered the first 70,000 seedlings of 2021 to seven small nurseries managed by local producers. The seedlings are produced by Quinta Portugal, an agro-forestry centre and nursery established by Portuguese cooperation agency Camões and a long-standing partner of Ai ba Futuru..
During the celebration the EU Ambassador to Timor-Leste Andrew Jacobs and representatives of Germany and Portugal planted sandalwood and Arabica coffee seedlings.
Ai ba Futuru is enabling farmers and communities to plant trees that will have commercial value. It is helping to improve wood processing, and is encouraging the Timorese private sector to invest and become actively involved in establishing, harvesting and processing domestically-grown forest trees for local use and for export. This enhanced value chain is providing both a major boost for economic diversification and make a huge different to farmers’ livelihoods.
It will also secure jobs for future generations.
Florencia de Jesus, 32-year-old from Hularema village, is a young mother of three. Last year she was hired full time by Quinta Portugal to cope with the high demand for new seedlings. “It has taken almost two years of intensive dialogue with the rural communities and training in agroforestry, but now the farmers understand the value of planting new trees to ensure a better future for their children. I also attended the training courses, I am very grateful to the European Union because I learned how to start my own plantation and benefit from the facilities offered to the small farmers”, says Florencia.
Ai ba Futuru is also assisting in the establishment of four new bamboo pre-processing centres in Viqueque, Lautem, Baucau and Manatuto. The initiative is hiring young carpenters and providing training to operate the machines to cut and split bamboo for easier transport to the Bamboo Institute in Dili, where bamboo stripes are transformed into furniture and handicrafts. The carpenters have established nurseries to grow bamboo saplings, to ensure supply. Bamboo is a sustainable, fast-growing material that is in high demand in Timor-Leste and has the potential to play a vital part in developing the country’s rural sector.
The pre-processing centres are built locally. They will provide employment and a regular source of income to the workers and their families.
Last year, Ai ba Futuru organised Timor-Leste’s first Agroforestry Trade Fair to foster partnerships among stakeholders including producers, traders, business associations, policymakers, NGOs and international agencies. A total of 40 exhibitors showcased their products derived from agroforestry value chains, including producers, cooperatives, financial suppliers, government services and input suppliers. The participants benefited from increases in sales and production, better employment opportunities and improved market access, thus generating higher income.