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  • Sophie Raynor

Bumper harvest at "desert" Cristo Rei site

Seven agriculture students from Dili's Universidade de Paz have successfully harvested their first vegetable crops today in a ceremony at the previously bare site of RAEBIA Timor-Leste's Cristo Rei resource centre, where they have been living and interning since June.

Touring the centre's land, the students showed harvest guests the changes that have been made to the site since RAEBIA Timor-Leste and USC Canada took over its management in 2014.

RAEBIA Timor-Leste has successfully revegetated over a hectare of the sloped site, which was neglected for cultivation by locals who previously believed the land too difficult to farm. With support from US AID's Avansa Agrikultura Project, RAEBIA Timor-Leste has implemented a series of Slope Agriculture Land Techniques (SALT) since 2016, including planting deep-rooted trees to curb erosion, constructing terraces to protect crops from water runoff, and producing liquid and unliquid organic fertiliser to improve soil quality.

"Before it was like a desert," RAEBIA Timor-Leste's executive director, Xisto Martins, explained to the crowd of more than 30 students, guests and local farmers at the harvest ceremony. "But now, it's transformed into very productive land."

US AID's chief of party for the Avansa project, Dina Karic, congratulated the students, who offered mustard greens and a local leafy vegetable, kankung, for sale, in order to fund their continuing university studies and seeds for their next crops.

Ms Karic praised the students for their hard work and encouraged them to continue increasing their skills as a pathway to employment, highlighting the necessity of engaging young people in agriculture.

"When I go out and see the farms I see old people, and it makes me worried," Ms Karic told the crowd.

"I think, "Why aren't young people involved?' So this makes me feel better. Agriculture is so important for the Timorese economy, and young people have to be involved. It's hard work, but there's money to be made and ways to make it easier."

RAEBIA Timor-Leste has offered internships to agriculture students since 2016, to provide the essential practical skills required to complement students' theoretical learning and advance their career opportunities in the agriculture sector.

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