Last month marked the first anniversary of the launch of the small research site established in partnership between AI-Com, the National University of Timor Lorosa’e (UNTL) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries at Vermasse, in Baucau municipality, in December 2017. The research site offered an inaugural group of 12 students from the university’s agronomy faculty to live and work for three months at Vermasse, conducting on-field experiments and applying theory to the practical work of innovative experimentation for farming communities.
In the 12 months since the launch of the site, 36 UNTL agronomy students (28 male and eight female) have conducted on-field experiments at Vermasse, living and working at the site for three-month-long stints. Students have conducted experiments in areas including applying organic fertiliser (rice hull biochar) to new crops; growing horticulture crops including chillies, rockmelon and watermelon; investigating crops to grow after the rice crop is harvested; and applying organic fertiliser and super phosphate to crops to increase yields.
Students have seen promising results, including pushing the boundaries of crop production in tough environments; increasing yields of staple crops; helping farming families increase income potential in the second season; and encouraging the use of innovative experimental design
The land at Vermasse was previously produced low rice yields because of its poor-quality soil and was donated by local farmers. Seeds for student experiments have been provided by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Students will continue experiments at the site until December 2019 under the two-year-long partnership, exposing students and university staff to innovative new ideas about increasing the productivity of rice-based farming systems, to bring agricultural innovations to communities.