The community living in Suai Loro Suco in Cova Lima Municipality are smallholder farmers who are mostly dependent on seasonal paddy cultivation and fish farming. They are a coastal community who are vulnerable to the tidal effects of the Timor Sea and the majority of their land remains unutilized due to lack of knowledge and access to the seeds and fresh water required to grow marketable crops.
As part of its coastal resilience project UNDP has been working in Suai Loro with implementing partner NGO Hametin Lia Tatoli (HTL) since July 2017. To strengthen the conservation effort the “Matadalan” group was created in November 2017, comprising of eight women and four men. With the exception of the leader, the majority of the group were completely dependent on their annual paddy cultivation.
Previously they used to purchase vegetables from the adjacent markets, so horticulture activities were a good option to support them to be self-sufficient, strengthen their livelihoods and improve their income. In December 2017 the group initiated its community level vegetable gardening for the first time in the area as a viable option of income generation. Since vegetables have a stable market all year round, the group decided to plant long beans, water spinach, eggplant and bok choy based on seasonality.
Initially, UNP supported the group with seeds, fencing materials, a pump set and water storage tank to allow them to operate in a 250 m2 area. Training on socialization and horticulture techniques was also provided. The group is led by Mr. Bria, an experienced farmer from the community who facilitates some of the cultivation techniques to grow vegetables in addition to sharing his own land for collective cultivation.
“Most of the group have inadequate knowledge of vegetable gardening," explained Mr. Bria.
"Lack of access to fresh water made the situation more complex. Finally, we came together and decided to start collective gardening to fight together against all adversities”.
After two months of hard work the group finally harvested their first produce of water spinach which was sold for US$109.00 in the local market. By the end of the third month the group will be able to harvest long beans. 50% of the profit has been shared with each member and the remainder kept with the group so they can purchase seeds and other materials as needed.
After seeing the changes Mrs. Marcelina Gomes, one of the group member said: "I am happy to become a part of this vegetable garden. I will apply the learning in future to develop my own vegetable garden”.
Now to community is also restoring their fence and magroves planted along the coast. After seeing the benefit from the small farm they want to expand up to 3 ha of land soon. They are already starting land preparation for upcoming season and as they are getting a good return from the vegetable compared to traditional paddy they will invest their earnings to improve the education and nutrition for their children.