Overview Objectives

The project aims to improve food security through the introduction, testing and initial distribution to farmers of improved germplasm of the major food crops: sweet potato; maize; cassava; peanuts, and irrigated rice.

Project Background and Objectives

East Timor has a population of almost one million people, occupying half the island of Timor. Eighty per cent of the population, an estimated 139,000 households, rely on agriculture, with cropping providing most of the staple food intake.

Food security is fragile, with crop yields are well below that of comparative regions elsewhere being a major factor in this fragility. Improving crop yields would be a significant step towards reducing widespread malnutrition. Crop yields are low due to the varieties grown being poorly adapted to local growing conditions. Many of these varieties are local varieties or of Indonesian origin, but without the benefits of recent breeding improvements.

The civil disruption and damage to infrastructure, institutions and research facilities following independence also extended to seed stocks. The resulting shortage of planting material and poor suitability of emergency supplies revealed the need to find improved varieties.

Progress Reports (Year 1, 2, 3 etc)


The Seeds of Life project was developed with the goals of improving food security for East Timor through the introduction, testing and distribution to farmers of improved germplasm of the major food crops enhancing the capacity of the Timorese scientists to independently develop and manage crop improvement for village farmers.


The project commenced as a collaborative effort between ACIAR, the East Timor Transitional Administration/United Nations Transitional Administration for East Timor (ETTA/UNTAET) through the Ministry of Agricuture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) with participation from the Non Government Organisations World Vision International (WVI), Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and Australian Volunteers international (AVI) and Centers of the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) including the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the International Maize and Wheat Centre (CIMMYT), the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Potato Centre (CIP) and the International Centre for Research in the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).


The specific objectives of the project are:
To evaluate under a range of soils/land forms and climatic conditions in East Timor the adaptation of a range of lines of rice, maize, cassava, beans (including red beans, soybean, mungbean, cowpea), potato, sweet potato and peanut supplied by IRRI, CIMMYT, CIAT, CIP, and ICRISAT
To identify and multiply lines with improved environmental adaptation and tolerance to biotic (pests, diseases) and abiotic (drought, low fertility) stresses
To improve farmers’ access to high quality seeds of the best adapted cultivars
To gather a crop performance base data over a range of environments for future developmental programs on increasing farm productivity
To build capacity of East Timorese Government Institutions and staff in evaluation, production and distribution of improved germplasm.

Project management and annual technical meetings

A project management committee (PMC) was established composed of representatives of all partners. It met on three occasions in July 2001, October 2001 and October 2002, to discuss project operations, plan trial activities, and discuss and review trial results and crop performance.

Project training

A 2-day training course was held on 3-4 October 2001 at the Dili district office, for some 35 district agricultural officers, district crop production officers, and WVI and CRS technicians. These technicians have only recently been selected and put in place. The five CG reps each gave 1.5 hour presentations on trial results and general management for each of their crops, and handed out various technical reports and manuals. This was very well received by the technicians. It was a good start to Seeds of Life training. We also discussed more DAA technician involvement in the trials, and needs for further training. The DAA is setting up an information centre with good Web links, and the CG reps agreed to provide up-to-date reports and newsletters to the DAA HO for distribution to districts.

Conference on “Agriculture: New Directions for a New Nation”

The New Directions international conference was held on 1-3 October 2002 at the East Timor National University (UNTL), jointly arranged by ACIAR, Australian National University, UNTL, and MAFF. It was timed to coincide with the annual Seeds of Life meeting, so that technical presentations on performance of crops in project trials served both the conference and project annuial meeting.

There were opening speeches from the Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Estanislau da Silva), UNTL Vice Rector (Francisco Martins) and the Australian Ambassador (Paul Foley). The Minister was especially enthusiastic about the conference and the ACIAR/AusAID support and assistance from ACIAR/ANU with overseas speakers - it was the first international agricultural conference in East Timor in anyone’s memory. At the Minister’s request, there was a strong focus on technical information and experiences relevant to ET development, a strong representation of ET speakers, and a broad agenda to cover cropping, fisheries, forestry and livestock. There were about 140 participants from 10 countries, 25 presentations, a field trip to see coffee and land rehabilitation projects in Ermera, and 4 working group sessions on crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. Presentations were in Tetun, Indonesian or English and translated into the other languages. A simultaneous translation facility was planned but was not working properly. Interestingly, the selected national language of Portuguese was not used. Significantly, the 16 overseas speakers gave their time freely to prepare for and attend the conference - a fact which greatly impressed to Minister.

The conference started with ET presentations from Departmental Heads on the status and future directions for cropping, livestock, forestry, coffee, and fisheries. Then followed good technical presentations containing some sound and realistic suggestions for future development by Australian specialists and some ET colleagues on fisheries, livestock, forestry. Ken Old has consulted on the fungal problem in the Albizzia coffee shade trees, Richard Sellers has interacted widely on border fisheries planing and management, including through an AusAID project on reef fish resources, and Richard Copland is interacting on livestock education and research through the ACIAR university assistance project. Rachel McFadyen was especially invited at the request of the Minister because of the seriousness of the Chromolaena problem in ET and her wide reputation in biological control especially through ACIAR projects in Indonesia.

The Seeds of Life presentations were a highlight of the conference. They were the only talks based on actual data being collected in newly independent ET and Seeds of Life seems to be the only functioning research project underway in ET, which is a constraint in view of the current lack and future need for sound local data to support development efforts. Seeds of Life is an impressive story because many of the introduced lines of all crops, obviously well selected, are yielding generally 2-3 times and sometimes 6 times higher than local checks. Colin Piggin gave an overview of the project, Brian Palmer discussed activities and trials in the first 2 wet seasons, and detailed data on the crops and their performance was presented by Reinhardt Howeler (CIAT - cassava and beans), Asep Setiawan and Upali Jayasinghe (CIP - sweet potato), Shyam Nigam (ICRISAT - peanut), Fernando Gonzalez (CIMMYT - maize) and Edwin Javier (IRRI - rice).

It is planned that proceedings of the conference will be published by ACIAR.

Overview of crop trial results

Some introduced varieties/lines of all crops gave outstanding yields, which were much higher than local check varieties. These are highlighted below, and confirm the appropriateness of the project approach to test widely for better adapted germplasm for East Timor. The increased yields possible with better adapted material should bring strong benefits when extended and taken up by East Timorese village farmers.

In 2000/01, after a rushed start, good, analysable data was obtained from 12 of the 35 trials, which were conducted at Los Palos, Baucau, Aileu, Maubisse, and Maliana. Yields of some introduced material were much higher than local controls for maize (3 vs 1.8 t/ha), sweet potato (24 vs 4 t/ha), peanut (4 vs 2 t/ha), and cassava (35 vs 6 t/ha). These are quite remarkable increases from better adapted material.

In 2001/02, in trials at Baucau, Aileu, Betano, and Loes, for example, local maize varieties had an average yield of 1.3 - 1.5 t/ha over the 4 sites, whilst CIMMYT lines SWS001Y-3 and SW5 had average yields of 3.8 and 3.5 t/ha. At Baucau, local sweet potato yielded 1.1 t/ha whilst the 8 introduced CIP lines all yielded above 8 t/ha. At Baucau, local peanut yielded 2.8 t/ha whilst ICRISAT lines 93269, 95322, 95278, 93261 yielded over 3.5 t/ha. At Loes, local peanut yielded 2 t/ha whilst 94063 yielded 3.4 t/ha.

Locations and character of project trial sites

In 2000 - 2001 six sites were selected, but trials were only conducted at five - these were Baucau and Lautem in Eastern ET (under the guidance of CRS) and Bobonaro in the West and Aileu and Maubisse in the Central Highlands (under the guidance of WVI). The site in Viqueque was not progressed because of social unrest. The experimental programme started late for two reasons, firstly the wet season was unexpectedly early but more importantly some of the material was late arriving in East Timor for various reasons. Nevertheless the 2000/01 trials allowed valuable experience and information to be obtained on crop performance, capacity of ET collaborators and difficulties conducting trials in the ET environment. Many trials yielded useful technical data and have supported information from more rigorous trials in 2001/02.

The locations used in the second and third seasons were Fatumaca in the district of Baucau to cover the Eastern Region, Aileu to represent the Central Highlands, Betano in the district of Manufahi to represent the Southern Regions and Loes in the district of Liquica to cover the Western Regions. The Fatumaca site is on the Agricultural Training Centre run by the Silesian Order and is conducted with the guidance of Father Locetelli with some assistance from CRS under management of Dr Brian Palmer, AVI/ACIAR Dili. The Aileu site is conducted on property rented by the Portuguese Mission and is managed by ACIAR Dili using locally appointed farm staff. The Betano site is located on MAFF property and is managed by Mr Brian Monaghan, an AVI appointment, in conjunction with MAFF staff and locally appointed labour. The Loes site is located on land under MAFF control and is managed by Dr Gene San Valentin, UN/World Bank/MAFF adviser Dili, in conjunction with MAFF staff and locally appointed labour.

In general the soils of Timor Leste are of low fertility with good internal drainage and poor water holding capacity. Fertiliser has been used at the low rate of 15:15:15 N:P2O5:K2O to reduce site differences in fertility and allow better expression of genetic differences. At some locations, observation plots of maize without fertilizer have been grown to quantify site responses.

Some introduced varieties/lines of all crops continued to give outstanding yields, which were much higher than local check varieties. Results for 2003 are described below. Generally, the results confirm the appropriateness of the project approach to test widely for better adapted germplasm for East Timor. The increased yields possible with better adapted material should bring strong benefits when extended and taken up by East Timorese village farmers.

Crops were well managed and results were good from Aileu, Baucau, and Betano, with 15 of the 16 planned trials on maize, peanut, cassava, sweet potato, and beans growing well. Only maize at Baucau failed due to drought after planting. Cassava was yet to be harvested at all sites and some crops were also late at Betano. All crops failed at Loes, due to drought and probably lack of close management. There were also no useful rice trials conducted. Gene San Valentin oversees Loes and the rice trials, and he has been away from East Timor for long periods.

Sites were generally free of weeds, pests, diseases and deficiencies. All crops received 15:15:15 N:P:K, with zero-fertiliser checks on 2-3 lines at most sites.

Introduced lines of most crops continued to perform very well in the third season of testing. For example, CIMMYT maizes (m2, m3, m11) yielded over 6 t/ha, whilst Indonesian Arjuna produced 5 t/ha and local maize 2 t/ha. Response to fertilizers was significant and higher for introduced lines - with -/+ fertilizer productions of 1.7 compared to1.9 t/ha for local maize and 2.8 compared to 5.2 t/ha for the SW5 CIMMYT line. Local peanuts at Baucau produced 1.8 t/ha whilst gn3, 11, and 12 from ICRISAT produced 2.4-2.6 t/ha; at Baucau, local peanut produced 4.2 t/ha whilst gn3 produced 5.8 t/ha. For sweet potato, CIP lines 8 and 15 produced 40 t/ha at Aileu whilst CIP 1, 5, 6, and 7 produced 16-18 t/ha at Baucau.

Some of the planned MAFF-managed seed production and farmer demonstrations have gone ahead in some places but have only achieved pretty limited success, despite quite ambitious plans. However, these were not a main focus of the project, but rather areas where a start might be made once well-adapted lines were identified and accepted for promotion by MAFF. They have shown that farmers are keen on better-yielding introduced lines. This will need to be a major focus of the project in any Phase 2, with involvement of extension expertise from Australia.

Some 12 MAFF technicians have taken part in short courses at CG institutes. This has been an excellent opportunity and experience and should bring benefits to MAFF in terms of better technologies, better capabilities, and better international contacts.

The final project technical meeting and external review, and Phase 2 planning session, took place in Dili on 19-25 October 2003. At the official opening, with 32 attendees, Minister Estanislau Da Silva emphasised the importance of the project to MAFF and their commitment for full involvement on any on-going research and emphasised it was important to capture the benefits of the identified improved crop lines through collaboration with MAFF extension programs. Ambassador Paul Foley complimented the project on careful research in a difficult environment to identify adapted lines, and urged close cooperation with the AusAID RDP to promote them far and wide. This gives hope of wide dissemination of project outcomes, which Seeds of Life cannot achieve alone.

It was agreed strongly by all present that the excellent outcomes of Phase 1 need to be consolidated during a 3-5 year phase 2 of the project, with an emphasis on objectives of better village welfare through promoting farmer uptake of better varieties and institutional strengthening of MAFF and other ET institutions. It was agreed that a project could involve on-going research on variety adaptation and crop agronomy, seed production and germplasm management, extension involving farmer demonstrations/participation and model farms and training in technical information, R & D methodology. The project should be led by MAFF, and focussed through the MAFF research and extension groups and the MAFF centres in Loes, Betano and possible Los Palos. Partners and collaborators would include MAFF, UNTL, NGOs (CRS, WVI), CGIAR Centres ( IRRI, CIMMYT, CIAT, ICRISAT, CIP), ACIAR advisers, NT DPI and QDPI extension specialists. There should be strong links with other development projects (e.g., AusRDP, UNDP seeds lab in Betano). A proposal for consideration needs to be developed.

External reviewers attended the final technical meeting and reviewed achievements of the project. Generally they were very positive about the achievements of the project. They made 17 recommendations to consolidate Phase 1 findings and for a Phase 2 extension to promote institutional strengthening and farmer uptake of technologies to improve village livelihoods. These recommendations will be considered in designing and implementing a follow-on project.

Proceedings from the conference entitled “Agriculture: New Directions for a New Nation East Timor (Timor-Leste)” were published as ACIAR Proceedings No 113, and distributed widely to MAFF, UNTL and all participants during 2003. Six papers in the proceedings were produced by project collaborators on the performance of the target project crops in East Timor.

A poster on “Seeds of Life -Timor-Leste” prepared by ICRISAT was one of the five winners in the poster competition at the Global Forum on Agricultural Research (GFAR) meeting at Dakar, 2003.

Crop performance in 2004-05 (I think this should read 03-04, since the report covers Jan to Dec 2004, cannot report on 04-05 crops performance, Tony Fischer)
1. Rice:
Two irrigated rice trails, two upland trials, and 6 on-farm demonstrations were established. The irrigated trials in Baucau and Viqueque were growing well but have yet to be harvested and analysed. In the upland trials at Loes and Baucau, UPLRI-5 was the most promising, followed by PSB RC5 and UPL RI7. The six on-farm variety trials in the irrigated lowland ecosystem were conducted in Baucau and Viqueque, and the crop stand was good in August 2004.

2. Maize:
During 2003-04, a total of six trials, two (one varietal and one intercropping trial) in each of the three locations at Fatumaca, Baucau, Alieue and Loes were conducted. Varietal trials involved different levels of N fertility and intercropping trials involved maize with either sweetpotato or pumpkin. At Aileu and Loes, severe Downy mildew was experienced and white maize cultivars that were not developed with resistance to DM suffered. In response to this, CIMMYT introduced several new white DM resistant varieties from Harare, Zimbabwe which showed promise for yield potential and disease resistance. A few “on-farm” trials were conducted in 2004 in and around Loes in farmer’s fields where the farmers showed greater preference for S99100, a white flint variety with good levels of DM resistance and good grain quality.

At Baucau, SWS 00351-1 and ACR0030 were the best performers, yielding 4.54 and 4.24 t/ha compared to local variety which yielded only 1.43 t/ha. There was 25-30% yield reduction in plots without fertilizer compared to those where fertilizer was applied. Interestingly the three improved varieties without fertilizer yielded twice that of local variety with fertilizer, showing the potential these improved maize cultivars have for Baucau conditions.

In the intercropping trial at Baucau, SW5 (M2) performed quite well in combination with sweet potato or pumpkin. The additional yield and income from sweet potato justifies the adoption of this system. Sweet potato variety CIP1 seems to perform better under intercropping than CIP6.

At Alieu, white maize varieties suffered from Downy mildew disease. Var 16 was susceptible, while the yellow variety SW5 (M-2) showed high level of resistance to the disease. Varieties Arjuna and SW5 performed well at Alieu, yielding 6.52 and 6.25 t/ha compared to 1.63 t/ha from local variety. Arjuna and SW5 yielded more than 4 t/ha even without fertilizer in this site. Although the residual fertility might have contributed to this high yield, it was encouraging to note their performance compared to local variety with fertilizer. The intercropping trial at Alieu also gave encouraging results. Although there was a slight reduction in yield of maize and sweetpotato under intercropping compared with solo-cropping, the combination of SW5 + CIP1 and Arjuna + CIP6 were found to be the best and most economical. The farmer will obtain higher economic returns and manage risk and food security better under this intercropping system.

In Loes where Downy mildew was present but not as severe as in Aileu, the mildew-resistant yellow varieties performed better. Once again SW5, SWS001Y-3, SWS00351-1 Arjuna and S99100 performed well at this location. S99100 is a white variety which showed high level of DM resistance and did well in on-farm trials also.

Conclusions: Testing during four growing seasons resulted in the identification of several varieties of different maturity and grain color, with good adaptation to different regions in the country. Varieties SWS001Y3, S99100 (white) and S97D145 were the best yielders among the early maturity germplasm. SW5, LYDMR, SWS00351-1 and Arjuna among the late maturity group performed consistently well in all the four years. These entries are proposed for future multi-location testing and initial seed multiplication. Enough seed is being provided for evaluation of selected varieties in yield trials during 2004-05, as well as for unreplicated on-farm tests and seed multiplication.

3. Peanut:
After three years’ evaluation (2000-2003), eight lines were selected for further evaluation at three locations in 2003-04. The following conclusions can be made for peanut: (1) due to its consistently superior performance, ICGV 95278, a short-duration groundnut variety, should be considered for release by MAFF for general cultivation throughout the country; (2) ICGV 88438, a large-seeded, iron chlorosis tolerant variety, should be considered for release by MAFF for cultivation in the Baucau region, where the problem of iron chlorosis is wide spread; (3) as maize is the major upland crop in Timor Leste, it would be advisable to include maize + groundnut intercropping trials in the next phase of the project.

4. Sweet potato:
Trials were conducted at Aileu and Loes districts. At Aileu, productivity of 33.7 ton/ha, 26.2 ton/ha and 19.7 ton/ha were achieved by CIP-1, CIP-6 and CIP-7 respectively. This is the highest productivity level ever achieved in Timor Leste. At the low elevation Loes site, however, the tested sweet potato clones produced only leaves and almost no storage root. This poor result is possibly due to nutrient imbalance (i.e. high N and K ratio) or clones poorly adapted to the low elevation site. Further investigation to clarify this phenomenon is required. Based on results over the last 4 years, introduced sweet potato clones performed exceptionally well under local conditions and generally had higher yields than local varieties, with CIP-1, CIP-4, CIP-6 and CIP-7 performing best overall.

Further work is required on seed production, germplasm management, distribution of selected clones to farmers, and crop agronomy. Good genetic material is now available but there is little healthy planting material to distribute to farmers. There is an immediate need to multiply selected clones and distribute them to the farmers for evaluation on farmer fields whilst new varieties are being prepared for official release by MAFF.

5. Cassava:
During 2003-04, 33 cassava varieties were planted with two replications at the Aileu experimental site, while 16 varieties were planted with three replications at Betano. Another 11 varieties were planted in Betano with either 1 or 2 replications, while an additional 9 varieties were planted only in partial plots for multiplication. No fertilizers were applied. At Aileu, plant stand was reasonably good, varying from 35% to 100%, with an average of 83%.. Plots had been planted on Nov 24, 2003 and were harvested on Oct 26, 2004, at about 11 months after planting. There had been some rain in Sept and most plants had new leaves at time of harvest although the soil was rather dry at harvest. Root yields were quite high, averaging 25.9 t/ha, with some varieties yielding 37-38 t/ha. The local varieties, Mantega, Merah and Putih, yielded 26.3, 20.6 and 28.3 t/ha, respectively. The starch content of roots, due to resprouting of leaves, was not as high as it could have been, ranging from 16.1% to 26.8%, with an average of 21.8%. Thus, the average starch yield for the whole trial was 5.64 t/ha, which compares with an average starch yield of about 4.0-4.5 t/ha in Thailand.

At time of harvest a field day was organized, so farmers from the surrounding villages could see and evaluate the new cassava varieties. About 30 farmers and a few district extension staff participated. The harvested roots were left in piles in each plot so farmers could evaluate the root size, shape and color, as well as the sweetness by chewing on a bit of fresh roots. They could also see the growth habit of each variety, as one row of 4-5 plants had been left standing in each plot. Farmers were given a simple layout of the trial and were asked to write down their score (1 = bad, 2 = good, 3 = very good) for each variety. Usually, the very sweet varieties received the highest score. Several varieties were considered sweeter than their favorite local varieties, Mantega and Putih. Farmers were also asked for each variety whether the roots were bitter, bitter/sweet, sweet or very sweet. Only 6 out of 33 varieties were considered bitter, while 7 varieties were considered very sweet. Finally, farmers were asked to taste samples of five high-yielding varieties that had been cooked, and again to evaluate the taste. Of the five varieties, variety 16 (Mantega) stood out as having a yellow color and compact texture, and this was by far the preferred eating variety. But variety 26, Gading, a local variety from Indonesia, scored high for taste, while it was also the highest yielding variety (38.1 t/ha) with rather high starch content (23.8%). About 10 farmers were interested in testing these new varieties in small plots on their own farm, i.e. to conduct a farmer participatory research (FPR) trial with assistance from national MAFF staff and district extension workers, while almost all farmers were interested in taking roots home for own consumption or for feeding their animals. Only the roots of bitter varieties remained.

In the end, four FPR trials were planted, one just outside Aileu town and three in Seloi Kraig village, about 5 km north of Aileu. Most trials compare 4-5 new varieties with their traditional variety, while one trial has about 15 new varieties.

In Betano rainfall was very sporadic in Dec 2003 and Jan 2004. In total there was only planting material of 16 varieties sufficient to plant three replications; another 11 varieties had enough material for one or two complete plots, while another 9 varieties were planted in half or one third plots, mainly for multiplication of planting material. At time of planting, soil moisture was minimal and it did not rain for several days after planting. Some irrigation was applied but was not adequate. Plant stand at 2 months after planting varied from 19% to 93%, with an average of 62% in the replicated trial. The two local varieties, Mantega and Lesu, had the lowest survival rate of 39 and 19%, respectively.

Parts of each plot were harvested on Jan 26, 2005. Since rainfall was quite high in Dec 2004, all plants had resprouted. Root yields were extremely high, averaging 44.4 t/ha for the introduced varieties and 3.5 t/ha for the two local varieties, with an overall average of 39.3 t/ha. This is about ten times the national average yield. Three varieties had average yields over 60 t/ha, while the best single plot yield was 88 t/ha with only an 80% plant stand; if the plant stand had been complete, the single plot yields could have been over 100 t/ha. These yields come close to world records, but are not quite as high as those reported for a similar trial in Betano conducted in 2003. The starch content of roots was low, ranging from 10.0% to 19.8%, with an overall average of 14.8%, mainly because plants were harvested about two months after the start of the rainy season. If plants had been harvested towards the end of the dry season (late Nov) the starch content should have been between 20% and 30%.

That exceptionally high yields can be obtained in Betano, using well-adapted and high-yielding varieties, is mainly due to a combination of very fertile soils, high temperatures, reasonably good rainfall (averaging about 1000-15000 mm/year) high humidity and high solar radiation. This creates ideal conditions for the growth of cassava as well as many other crops. Yields of some cassava varieties were getting close to the physiologically maximum, which is around 100 t/ha of fresh roots. The fact that cassava is very suitable for this area is that the crop is extremely drought tolerant and water use efficient, resulting in high yields even under erratic rainfall conditions; cassava also has a very efficient mycorrhizal association, which may explain the rapid recovery from an initially deficient uptake of Fe, Zn, Mn and Cu. For some reason the two local varieties did not recuperate and many plant probably died of Fe and Zn deficiency before the mycorrhizal infection was well established. More detailed research is needed to clarify this issue.

The day after the root harvest, neighboring farmers, district officials and students from an agricultural college were invited to a field day to evaluate the new varieties, as was done at Aileu. About 15 farmers, 10 officials and 20 students participated in scoring varieties and evaluating taste. Similar to Aileu, varieties 26 (Gading) and 46 (local Mantega) received the highest score in the taste test, but unlike in Aileu, variety 25 (Gempol) was also considered very sweet and very tasty.

When farmers in Betano were asked who would want to test the new cassava varieties on their own fields (conduct FPR variety trials) no one raised their hands. That was somewhat surprising considering the ten-fold yield advantage of the new versus the local varieties. The reasons for this may include shyness, little of the crop being grown in the area, and unfamiliarity with farmer participatory research.

In comparing Aileu and Betano in 2004, only 14 varieties were tested in both locations. Some lines performed similarly whilst others varied greatly between locations. For instance, variety 14 was considered very sweet in Aileu but bitter in Betano. A preliminary selection of edible varieties with relative high yield, high starch content and high farmer preference might include Ca 26, Ca 15, Ca 25, Ca 5, Ca 8, Ca 14, Ca 19, Ca 36 and Ca 46. Looking at overall root yield data of all trials conducted from 2001 to 2004 in four locations in East Timor, the best varieties might include Ca 15, Ca 14, Ca 7, Ca 13 and Ca 26.

The project has been extended for one year until June 2005, to obtain another year of crop trial data and demonstration results.

Transition year between SOL1 and SOL2. No Annual Report prepared

Project Outcomes

The project commenced in July 2000, soon after the chaos of independence in 1999, and the ensuing loss of agricultural research human resources and infrastructure (and even of seeds). Although the project commenced working collaboratively with the East Timor Transitional Administration/United Nations Administration for East Timor, it was anticipated that a new Ministry of Agriculture would become the principal collaborator, and this took place in 2002 with the formation of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF). Throughout the project it was staffed by one or two Australian advisers, initially an AVI (Dr Brian Palmer) and later Mr Brian Monaghan and Mr Rob Williams. They worked with local staff including, after 2002, MAFF collaborators and significant collaboration from NGOs operating in East Timor.

Several lines of each crop, suitable for local conditions and with improved yield for the characteristics of particular areas, have been identified. Many of these have been tested or are in the process of being tested in farmer participatory research. This is based on formulating ‘best-bet’ varietal recommendations with those farmers involved in the evaluation.

Wider scale bulking up of seed for suitable varieties will be undertaken in the follow-on Seeds of Life 2 project. Some farmers have, however, already gained access to improved seed through involvement in the project.

Sweet potato - three varieties yielding between 33.7 t/ha and 19.7 t/ha have been identified. These yields are the highest recorded in East Timor. Based on research conducted during the project, four varieties that performed well in local conditions have been selected for initial bulking up of seed stocks and later evaluation.

Maize - local yields of the maize traditionally grown in East Timor average around 1.5t/ha. Varieties tested during the project have yielded as high as 6 t/ha. In some areas varieties resistant to downy mildew disease have been trialled, resulting in yields between 4.5 and 6.5 t/ha, dependent on the agro-ecological zone. Downy mildew is a major disease that can substantially reduce yields. Both the white maize traditionally grown and newer yellow varieties have been trialled.

Rice - trials are underway at both upland and lowland irrigated sites of suitable varieties. Many varieties have yielded well, the best those with resistance to stem borer, indicating the need for this resistance. One borer-resistant variety has been well received in a number of field trials.

Peanut - two varieties, one suitable for cultivation throughout the country and a second suitable for the Baucau region, where iron chlorosis is widespread, have been identified.

Cassava - several suitable varieties, based on a combination of yield, taste and starch content, have been identified. Farmers have been involved in growing and taste-testing varieties, with a number of varieties identified for future trials and use.

Selection of potato and bean varieties has been delayed, to allow the under-resourced partners in East Timor focus on the main staple crops.

Many of the suitable varieties identified are being recommended to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, for scaling up and distribution. These varieties appear well adapted to local conditions, have tolerance or resistance to pests and diseases (biotic stresses) and have demonstrated a sufficient level of tolerance to drought and soil (abiotic) stresses.

A number of MAFF staff have also received training and grounding in crop evaluation and trial methodology. This has provided a foundation from which further cropping research capacity can be built. Five seasons of weather data have been recorded.

.ACIAR, together with AusAID, will use this foundation in Seeds of Life 2, the follow-on project, which aims to disseminate the best varieties, and trial these along with crop management methods and improvements on research stations and farms. This is a critical step in making the best available seed widely available to farmers throughout East Timor and beginning to improve the food security situation in the country.

Project ID
Project Country
Inactive project countries
Commissioned Organisation
Seeds of Life 2 Program, East Timor
Project Leader
Mr Rob Williams
+670 77234601
+670 390325121
Collaborating Institutions
Department of Agricultural Affairs, East Timor
International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Mexico
International Center for Tropical Agriculture, Colombia
International Rice Research Institute, Philippines
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics, India
International Potato Center, Peru
Project Budget
Start Date
Finish Date
Extension Start Date
Extension Finish Date
ACIAR Research Program Manager
Mr John Cullen