Harvest Time for Timor-Leste’s First Locally- Grown Rice Brand

From pioneering the first locally-packaged rice for Dili’s supermarket shelves to improving safety for female rice-sellers and farmers.

Acelda is a Baucau-based company that specialises in processing candlenuts into candlenut oil and exporting it to international markets. Acelda also sources other commodities including local rice, but volumes are low and used primarily for the intermittent government buyback programs in the area.

There are few agribusinesses operating in Timor-Leste, with correspondingly limited investment by the private sector to develop supply chains for local products. This means that imported goods dominate the market and it is challenging for local businesses to process and market their products to compete.

Markets where farmers can sell their produce depend upon unpredictable buyers, who purchase in irregular volumes. This has led to the belief that organised and intensive agriculture is not a commercially attractive livelihood, so farm productivity hasn’t increased, and the majority of the production is kept for personal use.

This mindset is a serious obstacle to the 64 per cent of the population engaged in agricultural activity as their primary work. Additionally, travelling to markets is time- consuming, and women often find this particularly challenging as it reduces their time spent on other productive activities.

Increasing farmers’ access to reliable and less costly markets acts as an incentive to increase their production and in turn, earn additional income. In 2013, MDF partnered with Acelda to establish a modern rice milling facility for processing and packaging locally sourced rice to compete with the imported products. Additionally, MDF supported with the design and implementation of an effective marketing campaign for the locally branded ‘Fos Timor’. To begin with, supermarkets were sceptical about the more expensive, local product. But within a year and a half, Acelda had secured distribution agreements with eight supermarkets.

The drought of 2016 prevented farmers in Baucau and Manatuto from growing surplus rice. To combat the shortfall, MDF signed an amendment to help Acelda source rice from another district. This solution has resulted in Acelda increasing the areas that it sources rice from.

Following an anonymous taste test conducted in 2015 with MDF’s support, it was established that although customers generally liked Fos Timor, 4-6 grains in every 100 were broken. Broken grains were caused by poor post-harvest handling by the farmers, which it was established was mainly done by women. In another contract amendment MDF supported the development of embedded training services for women and men tailored to their roles in the rice production process.

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