The Seeds of Life project is a $10 million bilateral initiative between the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and the East Timor Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Additional funding is provided by AusAID and project management by the Centre for Legumes in Mediterranean Areas (CLIMA) at the University of Western Australia (http://www.uwa.edu.au/). The project is designed to support food security through substantially improving the yields of key staple food crops such as maize, rice, sweet potato, cassava, peanuts.
The first phase (2001-05) involved testing a wide range of cultivars for desirable characteristics like drought tolerance, improved yields, fungal resistance and importantly, taste. Once prospective varieties were selected, they have been gradually distributed to Timorese farmer households under an innovative participatory farming system. The idea is that farmers directly compare the yields and qualities of the new varieties with their existing crops under the same conditions. Over 2000 farmer families are currently participating in the variety trials.
The ANU Department of Anthropology, Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, is a collaborative partner on the project providing inputs and training into the Social Research component. Working with staff from the Timor Leste Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries we are supporting a range of applied research activities including agro-climatic calendars, baseline profiles of participating farmer households and 'seed mapping' studies that document the production, distribution and local sourcing of improved seed crop germplasm. The role of seed markets, customary exchange systems and gender impacts of the new varieties provide further insights into Timorese farming systems and the challenges of achieving food security.