Student report from Timor-Leste: “It won’t be the last time that I come to this country”

July 16, 2018

It’s always exciting to hear from our international student award recipients – the group of students who have received support from our State Committees to include an international element in their studies. We reported on this year’s awardees here and we also brought together the reports from our 2017 awardees and encourage you to read their reflections that indicate great passion and learning – the future looks bright for the next generation of agricultural researchers.

Most recently, we received a report from Christian Berger, a Geographical Science (Honours) Student at the University of Western Australia. Christian’s award has him writing to us from Maliana, Timor-Leste where he has been conducting interviews with local young farmers.

When asked of his experience so far, Christian reported:

My experience here in Timor-Leste has exceeded my expectations by a long shot. Within a few days, I was fortunate enough to find a research assistant, named Cristina, who has been enthusiastic from day one. Not only does she work hard, but she also works patiently with me, so that I can reach my research goal being in this country only six weeks. Of course, not everything went according to plan, however, as we managed to deal with minor hiccups, we worked better together and started to become a great team. Not only did she help me a lot with my research, I am very happy to have helped her in many other ways too, such as teaching English. Living in the rural area of Timor-Leste really puts into perspective what humans really need. To put food on the table for our families and to be loved by those close to us. In a way, I felt like I was sent back in time to my own childhood, where a lot farm work was done manually. I feel comfortable talking to them about their opportunities and challenges in farming. Working in the field with the young farmers trying to reveal some of their major challenges will contribute valuable information for the host AI-Com. Although I am not fluent in the local language Tetun, walking along the streets of Maliana and talking to many locals about their daily struggles has broadened my horizon. That is what I want to build on in my future career. I have only two more interviews to conduct with local youth that have moved from Maliana to Dili. I look forward to going back home to share all these experiences with my partner, however, I will leave this country a little melancholy – it won’t be the last time that I come to this country. 

Christian’s work is connected with the collaborative research program funded by ACIAR called AI-Com: Agricultural Innovations for Communities for intensified and sustainable farming systems in Timor-Leste” which aims  to improve agricultural productivity and profitability for around 5000 farming families. You can follow their work at their active facebook  page and on their web page

Rob Williams, the Technical Director of AI-Com and well known to many from his work with ACIAR’s Seeds of Life project in Timor Leste, tells us “Christian has been great to have with us at AI-Com, and he has been very diligent in learning Tetun and understanding what is happening around him. Christian is involved in the social research aspect of our research, which is one of the four components. We not only want to spread new and innovative practices, but to understand why farming families adopt some and not others,” said Rob.

To help with this social research, Christian has been interviewing farmers and below he has shared with us the stories from two young farmers that face numerous issues on their farms. We wish Christian and AI-Com much success!

FARMER #1 – A male farmer (30) from Corluli, which is about a half hour motorbike ride away from Maliana, faces many problems especially during the busy wet season. Quite often money isn’t available to buy fertiliser, seeds and to borrow a tractor to farm the rice fields. In the dry season, his man-made irrigation channels don’t carry enough water for him and his community, therefore growing his own vegetables, such as cabbage, mustard, water spinach, tomatoes and chillies, he has to suffice his family’s needs. In the future he would like to continue his education at university and to one day come back to his community and help in developing it but without limited additional income, his family cannot afford to send him back to university. In his free time, he enjoys singing and playing football with his friends on nearby land. One day, he hopes the government will come and create a football field for the community to play on. Despite his hardship as a young farmer in such a remote area of Timor-Leste, he kept on smiling and repeated what so many other young farmers said: “I will stay here, because I have my family here and I can plant my own food – I am happy here”.

FARMER #2 – A female farmer (23) from Samelaun struggles mostly with a lack of water during the dry season. Her rice field and vegetable garden, just across the main road through her community of Samelaun, are technically connected to the main irrigation in Maliana. However, as many other farmers take out water for their own use along the way, this young farmer struggles to get enough water in the dry season. The use of technology lightens her workload during the busy wet season, however, to pay for tractor and labourers, she and her newly-wed husband need to work hard during the dry season to earn additional income. He works as a security guard in Maliana town, while she makes cassava chips and sells them at a friends’ kiosk. All over Maliana, parents would like their children to go to university to further educate themselves. Similar to most families, this female farmer’s parents feel the same, however, she doesn’t want to go back to study because her parents are getting older and she wants to be there for them. Family is very important and so is land to grow her own food on. She would never consider moving to another district to leave all of her life behind.