The Key to Success in Timor-Leste

Date Publish: 
Asia / Timor-Leste

Faced with significant crop failure in some of the poorest communities in one of the world’s newest – and poorest – countries, communities have turned to “keyhole gardens” to get over shortages.

The gardens get their name from their shape – a circle with a slice taken out. Each garden has a composting basket in the middle of layers of soil, making it more productive than a conventional garden.

“Keyhole gardening has helped us to get fresh vegetables for our families, and has especially helped the mothers to improve family nutrition,” said Antonio Duarte, Chief of Ariana sub-village in Bobonaro District, Timor-Leste.

With support from USAID and the Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA), IOM is working with rural communities in Timor-Leste by equipping villagers like Antonio with skills and resources to plant and harvest vegetables through alternative farming techniques.

In the hamlet of Heda, alternating floods and droughts have left farming families with little access to food, contributing to malnutrition and depriving households of additional income. This scenario is common throughout Timor-Leste, where heavy rains and hilly terrain make communities increasingly vulnerable to floods, landslides and river shifts, resulting in decreased agricultural production, damage to infrastructure and property, and loss of livelihoods.

IOM’s response has been to work with at-risk communities like Heda to provide farming alternatives in the face of recurrent, localized disasters. To date, locals in 12 villages in five districts have been supported to establish keyhole gardens, so they can plant and harvest vegetables no matter what the climate throws at them.

Farmers have applied their newly acquired skills to establish and maintain individual garden plots, producing fresh vegetables for family consumption and improving nutrition, particularly among young children. Farmers have also been able to supplement household income by selling produce grown at the local market and gaining up to $8 per plot, per monthly harvest.

Paulo Moreira, head of Purugua village confirms this: “Keyhole gardening is very useful for us. My wife and my kids no longer need to go far away to buy produce. They just go straight outside and within ten metres they can get fresh vegetables.”

Antonio Duarte, Chief of Ariana sub-village in Bobonaro District, Timor-Leste  is delighted with the results of his “keyhole garden”. © IOM 2013