The Hera community in municipality Manatuto has today finalised four months of land management work with a sacred tara bandu customary ceremony.
The final step in a land use management plan initiated in January this year by the community with support from RAEBIA Timor-Leste and US AID’s Avansa Agrikultura Project, the tara bandu ceremony enshrined community-developed regulations into local law and confirms prohibitions on land use established by local farmers.
“The community in Hera very much appreciates the participatory land use plan work,” said RAEBIA Timor-Leste’s program director, Mateus Maia, as the ceremony finished.
Hundreds of members of the Hera community gather to witness the tara bandu ceremony
A model developed by RAEBIA Timor-Leste with development co-operative JICA, the participatory land use plan model (PLUP) regulates how and for what purpose agricultural land can be used for, in order to preserve natural resources while ensuring rural communities’ livelihoods develop. It involves an extensive period of community consultation, socialisation, facilitated drafting, and coordinated exposure visits to similar sites already operating under the plan, to ensure the whole community supports the land management rules.
“Farmers always use the traditional techniques, but it’s not good for the land,” Mr Maia said. Traditional farming techniques used in Timor-Leste, including tiling, free-grazing animals, and slash-and-burn farming exacerbate the effects of drought, disease and other environmental issues plaguing Timor-Leste.
Sustainable agricultural growth is a priority of the Government of Timor-Leste and a foundation of its Strategic Development Plan 2011-2030. Mr Maia acknowledged the government’s commitment to working closely with communities to support their continued efforts to conserve their land while supporting livelihood development.
“The director-general of forestry at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries also greatly appreciates it,” said Mr Maia of the PLUP model. “He says it’s a good approach for the community. The PLUP and the community micro-programs are very successful, and the future land use plan – he suggests all partners, international and national, use this approach. It’s best to use this in the community.”
In the PLUP process, community first map their current land uses and natural resource management practises, then plan future use practises and develop sophisticated rules that regulate those practises. At the tara bandu ceremony, the regulations are read and signed and animals are slaughtered, demonstrating the community’s solemn, customary commitment to be bound by the behaviour code.
RAEBIA Timor-Leste has successfully implemented the PLUP model in 29 sucos across Timor-Leste, and will this month start work on a new PLUP in neighbouring Natarbora, Manatuto.
Sophie Raynor | RAEBIA Timor-Leste