Rice revolution

Alvaro and his wife Pascoela live in the village of Beco in Suai town, Covalima district. Since joining a farming co-operative supported by Oxfam, they are using innovative growing techniques to improve their crop and their family income.

Farmers in East Timor are using innovative growing techniques to improve their crop and their family income. Photo: Tom Greenwood/oxfam
Farmers in East Timor are using innovative
growing techniques to improve their crop
and their family income.

Alvaro and his wife Pascoela live in the village of Beco in Suai town, Covalima district. Since joining a farming co-operative supported by Oxfam, they are using innovative growing techniques to improve their crop and their family income.

Like many families in Beco, Alvaro and Pascoela grow paddy rice and other crops like corn, soy beans and fruit. They earn their main income from selling any surplus rice, but they often struggled to grow enough rice just to feed their families.

Rice is one of the most important crops in East Timor, but it has become expensive and unreliable to grow due to the cost of fertilisers, seeds, and changes in seasonal rainfall patterns. East Timor currently needs to import large amounts of rice because local rice farmers simply can’t meet local demand.

“Before joining the farming co-operative, we earned just $156 per year. But now, our production costs have decreased, we cultivate more land and the price we receive for our paddy rice has increased. We can work with other farmers, sharing ideas and information on new techniques. We can also use the cooperative’s hand tractor and milling machine,” says Alvaro.

Adapting to climate change

With the increasing unpredictability of rainfall due to climate change and the growing demand for rice, traditional rice farming practices are no longer efficient. Alvaro and other farmers in Beco have received training in growing rice organically and more intensively. This method is called System Rice Intensification (SRI) and already the results have been impressive.

Rice farmers normally rely on flooding their fields to keep seeds covered in water throughout the growing season. SRI, however, involves planting seedlings farther apart, keeping fields moist instead of flooding them, transplanting seedlings to fields earlier and weeding manually.

With this new method the rice grows quickly, meaning more rice to eat and a better income. Photo: Tom Greenwood/Oxfam
With this new method the rice
grows quickly, meaning more
rice to eat and a better life.

Hard work brings impressive results

While it’s initially more labour intensive than the traditional method of growing rice, many farmers agree that the results are well worth the effort. In many cases, rice yields have doubled to over five tonnes per hectare, and production costs have decreased.

“SRI is very helpful for our farmers in the village because we face a lot of food shortages and the irrigation system is broken. Our family income after this year’s harvest will be over $2000. That’s a big increase on the $156 we received three years ago!” says Alvaro.

“With this new method the rice grows very quickly. It means my family will have more rice to eat and a better life,” adds Pascoela.

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