News: Mentoring on soils in Timor L’este, October 2014

The Crawford Fund’s mentoring program aims to complement our training program by strategically placing experienced Australians with developing country researchers for targeted technical, organizational and personal development. It provides an element of sustainability that can also add significantly to research and training also underway.

The face-to-face mentoring can then be continued through ongoing communication and support.

To date, we have supported mentoring efforts in Cambodia and Timor L’este around soils and Laos around integrated pest management.

An earlier mentoring visit to Timor L’este to develop a soil test for plant available P and to mentor laboratory technicians employed by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries is now being followed up with a further visit by retired scientist David Lyons, formerly with the Queensland Department of Environment and Resource Management.

Soil testing in Timor L'este

Soil testing in Timor L’este

“Knowledge of the chemical and physical properties of soil underpins effective decision making and management of land for urban and agricultural use,” explains Dave, who is well-placed to provide this mentoring as he was a co-author of the Australian ‘bible’ on analysing soils.

“If the soil fertility status is unknown, or growth problems which need diagnosis are occurring, soil analysis can be used to troubleshoot and help optimise agronomic yields. While new varieties of crops can significantly improve yields, to improve food security in both developed and developing countries, the answer ultimately lies in the soil,” he said prior to his departure in mid-October.

An impressive soil database developed by Portugese scientists many years ago is available for Timor L’este and comprises detailed site identification, soil characterisation and other morphology data, but limited chemical data. Chemical methods used are not well identified and are unlikely to be compatible with commonly used methods in Australasia. Local scientists want to build on this database and that’s where our mentoring project comes in.

As we’ve previously reported, in 2011 approximately 50 cardboard containers of all sizes containing new and used lab equipment were shipped to Dili in Timor L’este. The equipment was donated by laboratories in Australia through an initiative of the Australian Soil Science Society in collaboration with the Crawford Fund and the Seeds of Life Program that is on-going in Timor L’este. Dave Lyons then made two visits to Dili – one a scoping visit in May 2012 and then after the purchase of more specific equipment a more detailed visit in November 2012.

David has now returned again to help improve the understanding of the existing soil testing facilities, equipment and chemicals.

“The mentoring is needed to give local technicians the training and experience to confidently undertake testing over time. This will certainly require frequent electronic contact between the laboratory staff and trainers as needed. The ultimate aim being to enable scientists to better understand their soils.”

David will be in Timor L’este from 13-31 October.