In an ambitious move aligned with the Timor-Leste Ministry of Education’s “merenda escolar” (school lunch) program, the Arafura and Timor Seas Ecosystem Action Phase II (ATSEA-2) Project, in collaboration with Permakultura Timor-Leste (Permatil), is transforming elementary education in Manufahi through a pioneering school garden initiative. This initiative is a cornerstone of a broader strategy to meld education, nutrition and coastal resilience, fostering sustainable practices and environmental stewardship among the youth.

The initiative engages five elementary schools: Escola Basica Central Dotik, Escola Basica Filial Wesusu, Escola Basica Filial Colocau, Escola Basica Filial Wedauberec, and Escola Basica Filial Feric-Sare’e. Each school embarks on this journey with a clear mission: to integrate innovative horticultural practices into the curriculum, enhance the nutritional offerings of school lunches with home-grown produce and instil a culture of sustainability within the community.

The project’s comprehensive approach involves equipping educators and parents with advanced horticultural technology and equipment, empowering them to guide students in the cultivation of high-value, drought-resistant plants. This initiative not only aims to augment the dietary quality of school lunches but also serves as a hands-on educational tool, teaching students valuable lessons in agriculture, ecology and sustainability.

Overcoming Challenges and Building Resilience

Despite facing adverse weather conditions that have occasionally impeded progress, the initiative has demonstrated remarkable resilience. Efforts to construct protective garden fences, prepare the soil, and produce organic fertilizers have laid a solid foundation for the gardens’ success. Teachers and students, driven by enthusiasm and dedication, actively participate in these preparatory activities, eagerly anticipating the expansion of the project to allow each class to nurture its own garden space.

The impending phase of the initiative will see Permatil’s continued support in the provision of essential seeds, selected meticulously to meet the specific needs and preferences of each school. This careful planning ensures that the gardens will not only thrive but also reflect the unique character and requirements of each educational institution.

By introducing modern farming tools and techniques, the collaboration between ATSEA-2 and Permatil enables educators and students to explore the cultivation of a diverse array of plants and herbs. Moreover, the initiative has spearheaded targeted activities such as water and soil conservation training for the Manufahi community, directly addressing critical issues like water scarcity. These efforts include:

  • Water and Soil Conservation Activities held from 30 November to 2 December 2022, in Wedeberek Dotik Village; 14 to 16 February 2024, in Sarin Dotik Village; and 16 to 18 November 2023, in Sukaer-oan Kaikasa Village.
  • Home Garden Activities that began with training from 15 to 17 March 2023, in Sarin Dotik Village.
  • A School Garden Workshop conducted from 16 to 18 May 2023, involving teachers from five primary schools.

These efforts are instrumental in enhancing food security and creating economic opportunities through the sale of surplus produce, thereby contributing significantly to the community’s well-being and resilience.

Impacting Lives and Landscapes

Impacting over 1,215 students across the participating schools, the school garden initiative stands as a testament to the power of collaborative efforts in promoting coastal resilience and sustainable development. Through this strategic partnership, ATSEA-2 and Permatil are not only nurturing young minds but also shaping a new generation equipped to steward their natural environment responsibly.

As this transformative initiative continues to evolve, its success stories and lessons learned illuminate the path for similar projects globally, showcasing the profound impact of integrating educational initiatives with environmental and coastal management strategies.

The school garden initiative in Manufahi goes beyond a simple cultivation project. It shows the crucial role education has in tackling environmental issues and promoting sustainability. With dedication, creativity, and community involvement, this initiative aims to have a lasting impact on the students, schools, and broader Manufahi community.

By Dominica Guterres and Stella Yovita Arya Puteri