RAEBIA Timor-Leste has hosted its first school excursion at its Cristo Rei resource centre with 17 students from Dili International School's year 9 class today.
Building on the students' study into food security and scarcity in Timor-Leste, the excursion demonstrated the innovative ways farmers in Timor-Leste adapt to farming the country's challenging landscape.
Nearly half of Timor-Leste's land mass has a slope of 40 per cent or more, and only a thin layer of fertile topsoil coats the steep, flood-prone farming land. At its resource centre, RAEBIA Timor-Leste demonstrates innovative sustainable agriculture techniques including terracing, compost and fertiliser production and seed conservation and selection, to show both local farmers how they can protect their farmland and improve the soil's quality, and visitors like the Dili International School's students how Timor-Leste's desert land can be reformed.
"It is a wonderful opportunity for students to gain practical experience to complement their theoretical studies and inquiry-based learning and how to apply these skills and knowledge," said Julie Green, Dili International School's community connections coordinator.
"Agriculture is an important industry to Timor-Leste's future and given that many of these students will qualify as experts and specialists in either agriculture, environmental science, or conservation management, these excursions provide the students with insights into future career pathways as well as inspiring them to think creatively and to think deeply about their country."
"Young people are our focus," said RAEBIA Timor-Leste's executive director, Xisto Martins, who addressed the students at the centre. "In the future they will lead this country. They need the knowledge and they need to understand the importance of conserving our natural resources. Through them we will have a good vision for the future."
Approximately 80 per cent of Dili International School's student population identifies as Timorese, and around 89 per cent of the year 9 group is Timorese.
One student said that she found Mr Martins' work to be inspirational and evidence that change can happen.
Seven families live in the area nearby the centre, but neglected to farm the land before RAEBIA Timor-Leste commenced its activities, due to their belief that the land was unable to be farmed. RAEBIA Timor-Leste established its activities with support from USC Canada in 2014, and continues to offer practical training to university students with support from US AID's Avansa Agrikultura Project.
"Visits to [sites] where sustainable agriculture is being practised provide students with not only the knowledge and skills on how to feed a nation; but, the inspiration to do so," said Cheryl Stephens, Dili International School's head of middle years.
Mr Martins said he hopes the centre will eventually become a hub of learning and sharing, and provide opportunities similar to the experience of the Dili International School students to many other people.
"In the future it will be a learning and resource centre," he said. "A place to learn from each other and to share our experiences and to demonstrate what agroecology actually is. Not just to say, but to see."