Farmers’ field day: showing new mung bean sowing methods

What’s the best way to grow mung beans in Timor-Leste?

According to farming families in suco Auben, in Natarbora, it’s a new method of spraying, broadcast and harvesting – but it doesn’t require planting or weeding.

Broadcasting, or scattering seeds, is a method of planting small seeds that would otherwise be finicky to plant, requiring many long days of sowing to successfully plant out a field. In small areas of Timor-Leste where families grow mung beans, placing the seed into a planting hole by hand has long been the only way of sowing mung bean seed – because families haven’t known any other method.

But this week, at a farmers’ field day organised by AI-Com, the Agricultural High School at Natabora and researchers from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, at Natarbora, on the south coast of Manatuto municipality, researchers demonstrated new findings that see mung bean crops thriving with little need for labour.

The planting system, called ‘low labour mung bean production after rice’ (or, in Tetun, ‘sistema produs fore mungo la kole’), enables farming families to grown mung beans after the rice crop has been harvested, and requires significantly less labour. It’s the result of nearly two years of work between local families, the Natarbora Agricultural High School, Ministry field researchers and AI-Com staff.

The system involves the following steps:

  • Rice is harvested at the normal time, around June
  • A herbicide, Roundup, is sprayed to kill weeds and remaining rice plants
  • After three days of waiting, the rice paddy is briefly irrigated
  • The water is removed, and pre-soaked mung beans broadcasted by hand onto the wet soil
  • No weeding is required as mung beans outcompete newly germinated seeds
  • Mung beans are harvested as normal

The application of Roundup removes weeds, which eliminates the need for ongoing weeding as the mung bean crop grows – further reducing the days of labour required for farmers.

Research findings presented recently at the TropAg international tropical agriculture conference in Brisbane, Australia, found that a plot of mung beans could be broadcasted in one day. Traditional planting methods required 40 days of labour. For this reason, only farming families in small areas of the country grow mung beans, as growing the crop is labour-intensive and unprofitable.

But with low-labour sowing methods, families are creating a novel way of increasing yields of this important, nutritious crop, without requiring days of toil.  

Two years of experiments have tested two varieties of mung beans and two different establishment methods. The varieties are one short-duration variety, Kuikae, which was recommended and released by the Ministry, and a longer-season local mung beans. Beans were established by either broadcasting seeds or planting by hand. At the farmers’ field day on Tuesday, 3 December, farmers and extension agents from three municipalities observed the outcomes of the different sowing options.

“This is really new to most people attending the field day,” said AI-Com technical director, Rob Williams. “They are very surprised that mung beans don’t need planting and can establish from just throwing the seed out onto wet soil.”

One of the co-operating farmers, Eurico Lemos said, “Not only is this system allowing me to grow mung beans, where I grew mung beans last year, the rice yielded much more this year.”

The innovative and high-value experiments on show at Natarbora demonstrate the potential of using locally grounded farming innovations to help produce more and better food for families in Timor-Leste.

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