By Maria de Araujo dos Reis and Luisa Cardoso, MDF Business Advisors, Timor-Leste:
Driving up to Maudiu village in Gleno Sub-district, southwest of the capital city, Dili, very early in the morning one experiences the quiet calm of the Timorese mountains. There was a strange mix of dust and fog in the air, as the temperature grew colder the higher we crept. This was our first visit to see the particular vegetables produced by farmers selected by our partner, FarmPro.
After an hour’s drive up the windy road, amidst the pockets of clouds in the mountains, we made it to Gleno to make our observations of the transactions between the farmers and FarmPro. We were surprised at what we saw; the site looked very different than our last visit, just a couple of months before. There were more vegetable beds with varied types of vegetables.
The first farm we visited belonged to Tio Agustinho. He and his wife gave us a warm welcome. The earth and dust on their hands, showing they had been working on their vegetable farm for hours earlier that morning. Their hope was harvesting some good crops to sell to the buyer. Agustinho was extremely enthusiastic about telling us how with the help of FarmPro he had installed drip irrigation in his garden and that it has lessened the work for his wife and himself in watering the plants.
“We are learning how to use new irrigation technology and for the first time we have been introduced to new varieties of vegetables like Zucchini and Ocra plants,” he said.
“This is my first time planting these vegetables and I hope the result will be good. Farmers have been planting vegetables for ages now but this is the first time they have learnt about planting in rows and how to develop planting schedule so that all farmers do not end up harvesting the same vegetables at the same time.”
We moved onto to see Nelson’s farm. Nelson was prepared with a rack full of tomato’s ready to be sold. After a brief conversation with him about his farm and how FarmPro has been supporting his production, we headed to a meeting point where FarmPro would purchase the produce.
Upon reaching the location, we found FarmPro ready with the materials for transaction such as digital scale, receipts, and a book that Peter Dougan, the Director of FarmPro, uses to record all transactions (volume and value of inputs sold, value of credit provided, and volume and value of output purchased from farmers). We were also pleased at FarmPro’s efforts to encourage farmers to keep their own records of transactions.
To our surprise, poor literacy skills of some farmers did not prevent them from keeping records as they relied on their children, who had been educated for record keeping. As soon as Peter took out his records for transaction, Agustinho and his wife quickly drew out their book where they had recorded all transactions with the help of their daughter.
While Peter was weighing the vegetables for purchase, we met a man named Domingos, who came running over with a rack full of broccoli and cucumbers.
“We like to work with Peter because he buys our vegetables regularly and the system of payment is good because he pays us upfront, while other buyers give the payment a week after the purchase,” he said.
Prior to their introduction with FarmPro, most of these farmers were planting similar, if not the same, types of vegetables, such as white or bitter mustard and cabbage using traditional farming practices. This not only affected the quality of the vegetables produced but also the sale price. Following the introduction of FarmPro, they are now able to access seeds, irrigation equipment and agro tools as well as information on vegetable cultivation. And importantly they have a reliable and stable source of sales for their vegetables.