Although a rice – growing country itself, most of the rice bought and sold in Timor-Leste is imported from countries such as Vietnam because it is cheaper than local rice. Rice farmers grow rice to feed their own families, but there is no real market for locally grown rice because a combination of transport costs, wastage through poor storage and the system of government purchase of rice results in Thai and Vietnamese rice retailing for 67 cents /kg versus US$1 / kg for local rice.
MCE-A is working towards restoring the local rice market by increasing cooperative members’ rice yield per hectare to create a surplus for farmers to sell at a low enough price to compete with imported rice and still get enough money to put the children through school and pay other household expenses. The technique of SRI rice is doing that: yields per hectare have increased from 2 tonnes per hectare to seven point six tonnes this season in sample plots.
The other strand of creating a market for local rice is to increase the loyalty of Timor people to buy local food. Our partner OXFAM supported a GROW local campaign this June to increase awareness in Dili of local products. It included a cooking contest and a local procession. Rice farmers from MCE-A participated and it was great to see MCE-A rice and vegetables on display.