It has been 15 years since Timor-Leste gained its independence. Since then, more than 2 billion USD of foreign aid has flooded in along with endeavors to tackle the socio-economic problems, rebuild systems, restore security, reduce poverty and improve the lives of the Timorese people. While the recent election is evidence of growth, at least in interest in consensus democracy, the enduring conditions suggest much remains to be addressed to strengthen its relatively young governmental institutions and increase the role of local actors, especially in rural areas, in becoming more.
It is a little over a year since the Thai-German Trilateral Cooperation Programme commenced its “Sufficiency Economy and Business Promotion in the Agriculture Sector” project under the Timorese-Thai-German Trilateral Cooperation. With expertise from Sukhothai Thammathirat Open University (STOU) and the Department of Agricultural Extension (DOAE), the aim is to improve the income of selected rural communities through higher agricultural productivity and commercial businesses.
As extension workers are key players in connecting the local farmers to markets and introducing them to new technologies, for this 3rd mission, the project first organized a training activity on facilitation techniques for extension workers. Facilitation in a participatory way is essential for extension workers to engage with farmers more effectively. With credible and confident facilitation skills, the extension workers will be able to better support farmers, noticeably the young, emerging and recently out of schools in the 4 pilot villages (Hera, Ulmera, Lihu, and Metinaro). The training consisted of 2 days in class and a 2-day field visit to the villages to practice and encourage the farmers to design a community action plan that will upgrade their champion products and identify role models from whom others can learn.
Despite continual on-the-job and tailor-made support, as well as sincere intentions, the situation is not without challenges.
“Our objective is to get higher income from horticulture but this depends on the condition of the market. For the training we do by ourselves, we know how to do it. But competing in the market is difficult because sometimes they don’t buy our vegetables. It is quite hard to get good quality and quantity.” – Siquito Soares, farmer from Hera village
Some of these challenges, along with progress and updates on the implementation, were reported upon during the 2nd Project Steering Committee (PSC) meeting on 10 March. The meeting was chaired by Mr. Cesar da Cruz, General Secretary MAP; Mrs. Suphatra Srimaitreephithak, Director General of TICA; and Mr. Silvio Decurtins, Country Coordinator, German Development Cooperation, GIZ. Each tri-party representative assured his/her commitment to continue support for the project, with a signing of the Implementing Agreement concluding the meeting.
“I think this Timorese-Thai-German Cooperation has had a good start but we need to see how good the strategy is and where it goes…I really hope you will support this ministry, and what has been decided today.”- Cesar da Cruz
Not only are the skills and knowledge of target groups to be strengthened but also those of the project team. An orientation and capacity building exercise for the new, albeit eager, project team was subsequently organized to allow them to gain a holistic understanding of project management through the concept of Results-Based Management (RBM). Demographically, more than 60 per cent of the population in Timor-Leste is under 30 years of age . This emerging active and younger generation brings potential and opportunities for innovative ideas and approaches, as evidenced by the perspective of the project team and coordinator.
“I love working in the rural/community development sector. I am impressed with the Sufficiency Economy Philosophy (SEP) concept. I want to expand my network in this trilateral cooperation for my future career prospects; and I want to learn good working discipline and ethos from the German company.”- Frenqui Monteiro, Programme Coordinator for Timorese-Thai-German Trilateral Programme.
Finally, ensuring sustainability within institutional frameworks was translated into a workshop activity to develop a standard curriculum and manual on the sufficiency economy and business development for extension workers. The objective of the workshop was to review and come up with a working manual that sums up all the activities conducted as well as design a set of course modules for master trainers to train other extension workers. As the workshop came to a close, the next steps to implement the plans and complete the manual were agreed.
There are compelling reasons to be both convinced by and doubt the effectiveness of foreign aid in Timor-Leste over the years and still today. Moving forward, the question remains how the project can best contribute to the needs and context of the country amid inevitable obstacles and setbacks. The SEP approach has been shown to build better livelihoods for Thais and if, after the initial year of application in Timor-Leste, the project idea still appeals, whether to Thais, Germans, the Timorese authorities, extension workers, or farmers, then the ownership and corresponding duty rests with each and every stakeholder to fully invest and exemplify their dedication and cooperation through action. Perhaps buried beneath bureaucracy and backdoor politics is the hope that the younger generation can shape a more substance-minded future.
- Pattamon Wattanawanitchakorn