Greenhouses and Commercial Vegetable Production in Timor-Leste

By : Gil Rangel da Cruz

Photo Courtesy - USAid Aileu district


As  stated in the first paragraph of the Agriculture Overview and Challenges at the Strategic Development Plans 2011-2030 (p.118) that “A thriving agricultural sector is needed to reduce poverty, provide food security and promote economic growth in rural areas and our nation as a whole.A growing agriculture sector will also promote rural development. Many emerging private sector businesses will support the farming sector by providing goods and services to improve production and by being involved in marketing any surpluses of processed agricultural commodities” And the challenges were noted “farmers in all districts raised concerns about the need for water security, farm modernization and advice about the use of seeds, fertilizer and pesticides. Many farmers said they needed better roads and reliable power to be able to get their crops to markets. Most farmers can’t afford appropriate fertilizers and pesticides and don’t have access to finance. Subsistence farming results in low levels of production and productivity, but many farmers lack the skills or support they need to be innovative and more business focused.

In specific area of horticulture (vegetables and fruits), to enhancement of horticulture production in Timor-Leste with goal is to substitute at least about 50% of imported fruit and vegetables by 2020 (Strategic Development Plans P 2011 – 2030). The actions to achieve this goal : (1) to encourage the supply of high value fruit to urban markets on a small scale through backyard production of a few trees per household to provide additional income and substitute some imported fruits, and (2) to support large scale vegetable production close to urban centers with supply agreements to large buyers, such as markets, hotels, restaurants.

The blueprints of these agriculture overview and challenges to be focused on how to lifting-up from subsystem farming and aligned (adjusted) to the farm modernization and/or agriculture technology which are rapid growing, intensive and fast advancing. Area we in track of it’s? There are several opinions coming to the circle by agree and disagree, of course with the reasons promptly. The agricultural modernization/technology is a social capital which are globally available and as global treasures to human development and welfare. The trend of market (domestic market) requirements are significantly high and increasing year by year as consequence of demand and local supply. As a reports in the inter-ministerial food and nutrition tas kforce by quarterly shown the sources and quantity of importation of vegetables and fruits to this country. And in fact that local production and productivity is very low.

The strategies and actions should be undertaken and it’s the main task of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries to work with development partners, private sectors and all stakeholders to realize specific goal on vegetables and fruits production in Timor-Leste. And it’s need all parties commitment and involvement. Honorable Excellency Prime Ministry Xanana Gusmao at the Dili Municipality meeting on 25 May 2013 call for private sector to involved in the horticulture production. He has been done field visited  and observed some greenhouse vegetable production establishment and operation under support of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) activities as well as joint with  private sector such as Knamek and Dili mart to had a deal with (contract growing) farmers under coordination with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Last year, on May 2012, USAID, Conoco Philips (Bayu Undan), ANP (National Petroleum Authority) and Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries agreed and signed MoU for replicating the existing Special Horticulture Area (SHA) which was being implemented by USAID’s Development of Communities through Intensive Agriculture (“DOCIA” or DAC) project called green house and tunnels vegetable production project in Aileu.

The greenhouse development and lessons learnt

The greenhouse vegetable production is a highly intensive enterprise requiring substantial labor and capital inputs.  For a successful greenhouse vegetable production operation requires mechanical aptitude, crop production skills and business acumen. Although greenhouse production is an intensive undertaking, it can be very satisfying and rewarding (Boyhan et. al, 2009).Green house is a building for a growing vegetable production and for environmental control or adjusted.  The system for growing vegetable under the greenhouse is hydroponic culture which is under well-treatment of the growing media (without/less soil).  So with the greenhouse technology,mostly targeted for growing valuable crops or varieties such as: tomato, pepper, paprika, melon, flowers and others depends on the market demanding, and it has good rewarding or profitable.

The greenhouse technology comprises of the component as followed to distinguished it’s important such as: 1st: building and indoor components to create micro-climate as required. 2nd: management of irrigation system (drip irrigation) during the construction of greenhouse building. 3rd:management of media growing and the fertilization supply. This component is very important due hydroponic culture depended on nutrient supplies for plant growth requirements. 4th: management and chosen crops to grow. For not complicated in terms of crop management, monoculture system is applicable.

In 2006 the first establishment of the greenhouse model for vegetable production in Lequitura-Aileu,  there were DOICA/DAC organized and trained the local enterprise and farmers involved to focus in greenhouse production. As a  high technology, farmers and company being well-prepared and trained for operation. In the earlier operation of Lequitura greenhouse ran well. But after USAID/DAC fully hand over to local enterprise, sustainability in operation not as expected. That’s why for the new arrangement and establishment approach to the farmers or farmers group and the market actors were integrated to make sure every actors/parties task and responsibility in direction of value chain approached.

During the establishment in Suco Sarin and Liurai (Aileu) also farmers expressed about the greenhouse technology as a “space” thing (teknologidariluarangkasa). And after they were involved, produces and linked with buyers to sold their products and felt guarantee with marketing and gained lots of income/profit compared with the conventional vegetable growers. At the hand-over ceremony of greenhouse to Assosiasaun Betu Laran (Sarin) and Assosiasaun Leu Diak (Liurai) which was held on 24 May 2013, the chief of Association were expressed that “for the achievement hard work is the key” (amiservisu to dollar didiakmakhetan dollar nee). This is exactly we want to hear from farmers of their expression to work hard for own benefits and to fill consumers requirements in this country.

Another issued was about how to simplified the greenhouse model which are applicable according to farmers skill, provision agricultural inputs, intensive management of production system. There are plastic tunnels or mini green houses as an option for fostering and improving diversification of the horticulture production in to meet market requirements. If markets demanding on various commodities, farmers easily to decide growing more in tunnels for other crops in a small scales. Tunnels model also can be simplified at media growing management and water/irrigation management. Josefina Farm, ILO, GIZ, Pas y Dessarollo (Spain) and others NGO  also already introduced a simplified model of greenhouses.

Attractive Investment and a new deal

The results of greenhouse vegetable production that are producing high quality products as well as sold at the local supermarket with a premium price becoming attractive for investment either by farmers or private sectors which are interesting to implement. Local market requirements horticulture products are still higher as pulling factor and it’s reflected on the importation of horticulture products. If we invested more in greenhouse and tunnels, with aims to promoting and enhancing commercial horticulture production in Timor Leste, our effort to food and nutrition security as well as rural income improvement will be in direction to achieves. We are expected, by modernized local farming with this technology introduced can be ensure farmers earning and rebuild their pride in farming. It has been success story expressed by farmers. If we have a chance to visits Seloi, Mantane (Aileu) and Ainaro as well as look at green vegetables growing in farmland, you will have a thought that just scale-up the technology and than paradise-in-waiting will around there.

The initiation already done by USAID/DAC project since 2006 and last year (2012) a new deal of investment to extended the greenhouse and tunnel project through Memorandum of Understanding between USAID and Conoco Philips (on behalf of the Bayu-Undan Joint venture parties) and acknowledged by The Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of Timor-Leste to shared 6 goals under the expanded program. The parties shared the following goals (Page 2 of the MoU dated 7 May 2012) :

  1. Goals #1: Integrate grower communities into wholesale and retail marketing system to strengthen the farm-to-consumer chain through the creation of an SHA at each community;
  2. Goals#2: Construct plastic tunnels, or “mini-greenhouse” to permit the outdoor production of vegetables during Timor-Leste rainy season;
  3. Goals#3: Install hydroponic technology into production facilities to enhance production;
  4. Goals#4: Increase the sales and marketing capacity of community through business training and monitoring on the community-based cooperative business model;
  5. Goal#5: Engage rural communities in finding community based solution to the challenges they will faces as they move from subsistence farming to marketing and selling agricultural commodities in the commercial marketplace; and
  6. Goal#6: Engage and collaborate with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries of Timor-Leste as necessary to ensure the sustainable, long-term impact of the program.

For the new arrangement made to the expanded SHA program, took a lot of time for discussion before signing the MoU. For the efforts  and great contributions, highly appreciated to Mr. Alfredo Pires (Sec. Estate of Natural Resource and Minister of  Petroleum and Natural Resources); Mr. Marcos da Cruz (Sec. State of Agriculture and Arboriculture and Vice Minister),Mr. Gil Rangel, Mr. Cornelio Asse, Ms. Rita M. Gusmao (MAF);  Mr. Gualdinho da Silva, Mr. Sidonio Freitas, Ms. Maria Joana Amaral, Mr. Ano Marques and others (ANP);Mr. Jose Lobato Goncalves (Conoco Philips); Mr. Frederic Scott, Mr. Ryder, Mr. Candido Conceicao and others (USAID).

Highly appreciate also to the private sector initiatives and contributions by Kmanek Supermaket and Dili Mart who deal with vegetable farms by made arrangement for contract growing and networking. While still faced lots of obstacle and hindrances, but efforts to better understanding and keep going on project as well as create mutualism between farmers as growers and marketplaces for agricultural (vegetable) commodities are the key investments and contributions to enhancing vegetable/horticulture production and finally can be contributed to reducing imported one.


The greenhouses technology was the ideal agro-business that offering year round harvesting and top-dollar returns to the farmers of their valuable and high saleable vegetables that sells in supermarkets. The intension of develop new technology for farming to enhance high value vegetable production in appropriate quantities, qualities and steady supplies as market requires.

Up scaling subsistence farming to modernize farming also will be removed feeling that farming was the poorest of all professions because it was hard, dirty works and money was always tight too. But now, farmers involved have taken a great step forward and create a new road to a good future as the best joband sources of income. Switching from traditional (subsistence) to modernize farming system need great contributions of all parties who willing to supported and shared experiences, strengths, technologies and resources in order to achieve goals of reduce importation, increased rural incomes and better food and nutrition security.

The expression of local farmer that growing vegetable under greenhouse techniques has changed their life,  If do you do so, there is a chance for better life too…! To do so for expanded and replicated, need more new actors. We are welcome…..!!!!


*Gil Rangel da Cruz,

Director of Agriculture and Horticulture

Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries