On 11 June 2012 long-time ACIAR collaborator Rob Williams was honoured with an Order of Australia Medal for service to overseas humanitarian aid projects, particularly through the ACIAR/AusAID-funded ‘Seeds of Life’ Program in Timor-Leste.
Rob has been helping the people of Timor-Leste build agricultural production since 2002, when he was first an agronomy lecturer at the University of Timor Lorosa’e.
Since 2004 Rob has been team leader, and now research advisor to the highly successful ‘Seeds of Life’ program which has introduced high yielding seed varieties to replace those destroyed or lost during the struggle for independence.
The program tested selected varieties of staple crops from International agricultural research centres on 3,000 East Timorese farms, seeking farmer feedback on their yields, storage abilities, taste and returns at the market. From hundreds of promising lines, nine new varieties of the five staple crops (maize, rice, sweetpotato, peanuts and cassava) were released, with the program building up enough quantities of seed to meet the overwhelming demand.
By 2009 the program had distributed about 100 tonnes of seed in five kilogram lots to more than 20,000 farming families. The Seeds of Life 3 program is currently targeting increased access to improved food crop varieties for more than 100,000 farming families, providing an important boost to food security.
Rob is also the director and founder of Drums on Farms NGO for improved on-farm grain storage, and has authored several papers, guidelines and improved university syllabus for agronomic research in Timor-Leste.