Home Gardens Boost Nutrition and Income in Timor-Leste

By Aydelfe M. Salvadora and Dirce Sarmento, ChildFund Timor-Leste

Highly nutritious food is often unavailable in Timor-Leste. Many children are malnourished because they don’t have a proper mix of vegetables and protein, but a ChildFund home-gardening program, begun in 2012, is helping improve nutrition and provide needed income for families.

Irene, the eldest daughter of Rosalia and Felipe, started a garden in the backyard of her parents’ small farming compound located in the sub-district of Tilomar. Like others in this community, Irene’s family depends on farming for their livelihood, yet their earnings are meager and uneven.

Irene, who is married with a child of her own, recognized the opportunity for growing nutritious food and helping her parents achieve more steady income. She invited her friends, Felicidade and Guillermhina, to join in the backyard garden project and also share in the benefits.

Before they started the garden, Irene and her two friends received training in farming techniques through Graca, ChildFund’s local partner, with funding from ChildFund Australia and AusAID’s Maternal and Child Health project. The women received tools and seeds for bok choy, kangkung (a type of spinach), eggplant and tomatoes.

woman in garden

Rosalia tends the garden.

Irene and her husband shuttle between her parents’ home and his home in another district, which makes it difficult for Irene to tend the approximately 300-square-foot garden all the time, so her mother, Rosalia, also helps the other two women.

leafy green vegetables

Bok choy grows well.

Last year, the women harvested twice, generating income of US$110 that was shared among them. Irene and her friends now have money for family essentials and a bit left over to buy seeds for the next growing season.

With Irene’s help, her parents now earn $20 monthly from the combined harvests of the home garden and the farm. Sometimes, Rosalia and Felipe also sell chickens raised in their backyard. This income is augmented when bananas are available; the family cooks pisang goreng (banana fritters) and offers them for sale to neighbors.

Without the garden, notes Felipe, the family would not be able to afford extra household items. He and his wife can buy food items like rice, as well as shoes and clothes for their 3-year-old grandchild.

Reflecting on their first year of gardening, the friends noted that their main challenge was access to water. During the dry season, the women had to take a brief break from gardening, and even during the rainy season, they have to fetch additional water for their plants from the neighboring aldeia (village), which is approximately 2 kilometers away.

And, yet, the garden thrived. The division of labor is fair, Rosalia says, and the gardeners look forward to this year’s first growing cycle, which began this month and runs through March.

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