The broad biodiversity of Timor-Leste's agricultural sector was on proud display in a successful pair of festivals this weekend that reflected the community of Batara's commitment to sustainable and organic farming and highlighted the potential of the country's rural centres to produce a diverse range of foods.
A joint two-day festival organised by the Government of Timor-Leste's Prime Minister's Office, RAEBIA Timor-Leste and the environmental NGO The Hummingfish Project, the Batara Community Seed Fair and Maubere Mountain Coffee Festival in Laclubar, Manatuto provided opportunities for the community's farmers to demonstrate the quality of their region's produce, and highlighted their commitment to promoting organic, small-scale and conservation-focused farming techniques.
RAEBIA Timor-Leste's assistant program director, Leonora da Conceica, says it's an important opportunity for the community to showcase both its cultivated and uncultivated produce to better understand the nutritional and agricultural potential of its region.
"People see these plants in their everyday lives but don't know they can use them," she says. "The seed fair's objective is to identify and assess the physical attributes of plants, to know the exact plants that grow here, and to know their morphology, including their leaves, fruit, colour, function and use."
Demonstrating the region's growing potential, the community displayed a diverse range of produce, including traditional cultivated staple crops like maize, cassava and sweet potato; uncultivated tropical fruit like papaya, pineapple and banana; and wild-growing persimmon, mandarin, avocado and pumpkin - which were catalogued and mapped with technical support from RAEBIA Timor-Leste.
Local farmers laid out foraged and cultivated produce for visitors to admire and sample
Each item was displayed with notes about the area in which it grows, nutritional information and cooking tips. "This information is for young people," Ms da Conceica explains. "They don't know about the uncultivated produce."
Food insecurity remains a chronic problem in Timor-Leste, compounded by a lack of crop diversity and deteriorating local knowledge.
The country remains vulnerable to weather-related natural disasters that threaten entire crops, and unsustainable land management has degraded soil quality and water flow, which reduce farmers' ability to grow enough food.
But initiatives like the seed fair - which aims to promote food security by deepening local understanding of the food that's available and ensuring farmers are planting and eating a diverse, nutritious and environmentally sustainable range of foods - are building farmers' resilience and enabling rural communities to thrive.
Farmers and community members view the produce on display at the Batara seed fair
RAEBIA Timor-Leste's work in Batara is led by the local community with support from the Government of Timor-Leste's Ministry of Agricultre and Fisheries. The Maubere Mountain Coffee Festival and eponymous coffee enterprise are supported by The Hummingfish Fountation.