Timorese Women Find Prosperity in Farming

USAID Avansa Agrikultura Project
Celestina Pinto, left, and Filomena Mendonca de Araujo stand in a field of purple sweet potatoes on the Avansa Agrikultura project demonstration plot.
Cris Guterres, USAID
On the rise: food production, incomes, nutrition and gender equity
“I have the power to take care of our family in terms of providing for the daily needs, bringing the kids to school and, lastly, we can save our money in the bank for our future.”

April 2017—The land in the hamlet of Seloi Craik in Timor-Leste’s Aileu district has always been good to Filomena Mendonca de Araujo and her family. Even if money was tight, there was always enough to eat from the family farm. Eating well, though, came at a cost.

“We learned how to be a farmer from our father and our mother,” she said recently. “They taught us how to cultivate and brought us to school. But because money wasn’t sufficient, I just stopped my study in primary school because we could not depend [only] on our parents” to do the farm work.

Now 48, de Araujo has four children who are all being educated at levels ranging from primary school to university. She credits the improvement in her family life directly to help from USAID-sponsored projects in her community.

Under USAID’s Avansa Agrikultura project, de Araujo manages a demonstration farm where farmers learn climate-smart agricultural practices. The demonstration farm is run on farmer-owned land, so owners earn proceeds from crop sales. At the farm, de Araujo learned irrigation techniques, how to raise new types of vegetables, and the quality needed to attract buyers, all new skills she attributes to helping her earn more income. 

“I have the power to take care of our family in terms of providing for the daily needs, bringing the kids to school and, lastly, we can save our money in the bank for our future,” she said while sitting under the broad branches of a shade tree amid the fragrant vegetable plots of the farm.

As the world celebrated 2017 International Women’s Day on March 8 with its theme of Be Bold for Change, de Araujo was just one example of a USAID beneficiary from the island nation of Timor-Leste.

Timor-Leste is a young country in terms of both its independence, which it achieved in 1999, and its population. Well over half the country is under the age of 24, with a median age of 19. It ranks 29th in the world for population growth with a rate of 2.4 percent annually.

The Avansa Agrikultura project, which began in 2015, is one example of investments in gender equity and women’s empowerment that USAID is making in 80 countries. In addition to women’s empowerment, the five-year program is designed to increase food production and horticultural incomes while promoting nutrition and climate-smart agriculture.

The project is sustainably increasing incomes for 33,000 people, with a goal to boost participant incomes from horticulture to at least $2,000 annually by the project’s end. In only two years, annual incomes of $1,600 have been achieved. In one year, nutrition has improved among project beneficiaries, with the prevalence of hunger falling from 15 percent to 4.2 percent.

"When I did my first work with African women in Mali back in 1978, they confirmed that, when women contribute economically in the household and their husbands recognize it, not only do the children benefit from better health and education, but the spouses work as partners, free from domestic violence, and both are able to contribute to ensuring that both their families and communities become more prosperous,” said USAID/Timor-Leste Mission Director Diana Putman.

Both de Araujo and fellow farmer Pinto Celestina agree that USAID programs are helping them diversify and grow income and have empowered them to be bold about making progress. “I do have the power and am strong enough to take care of my family from what I have,” said de Araujo.

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Last updated: April 12, 2017

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