Visitors seeking a meaningful and authentic eco-tourism experience in Timor-Leste can learn about sustainable agriculture with a stay at daTerra educational farm in Bacau, just two hours’ drive from the capital, Dili. DaTerra is a social enterprise that has developed the concept of agro-tourism to ensure the project’s sustainability and to serve as a demonstration model for combining sustainable agriculture and ethical tourism. At the heart of the facility is an elevated bungalow inspired by the traditional Timorese houses, with some adaptations for visitors, built with local materials. DaTerra started receiving its first local and international guests in 2017, and reinvested the income to build a second traditional hut with two private rooms, which are available as guest accommodation. Maintaining the focus on traditional local materials such as mud, rice straw, and sand, they also built a barbecue and are planning to add a pizza and bread oven to prepare food for guests.
DaTerra runs a varied plant and tree nursery as well a seed bank with over 200 species, making it probably the biggest seedbank in the country. The farm is also an educational facility, providing tours for schools and other entities while at the same time working as a research and permaculture demonstration site for developing local seeds and adapting other beneficial heirloom varieties. DaTerra embraces projects on Education for Sustainable Development, which is an educational vision that aims to balance both human and economic well-being, in harmony with cultural traditions and with respect for the planet’s natural resources. The main goal is to reconnect with Nature, creating spaces that bring one’s true nature into full potential, strengthening relationships with all beings. The project shares a holistic perspective in which the world is more than the simple sum of its parts, but several interdependent elements and systems that interact with each other.
Through a deep approach to sustainability, DaTerra encourages active participation as a fundamental aspect of creating truly healthy communities. Working with the local community, DaTerra has started local boat trips for dolphin and whale watching, traditional deep-sea fishing and to explore secluded beaches. They plan to extend their partnership network to attract visitors to natural wonders such as waterfalls, lakes, caves, and mountains in the region. Currently they are offering hikes to the top of Mount Matebian, from Quelicai or Baguia, and to the summit of Mundo Perdido (the “Lost World”) with stunning views and lush forest scenery, the hot springs at Venilale, and spectacular waterfalls in Laga and other parts of the district. There are different levels of difficulty depending on the tourists’ physical condition. Meals during the excursions are provided either at natural beauty spots or in nearby social projects such as orphanages, religious communities or local houses, to support the local economy. The goal is to establish and promote a network of community-based tourism organizations and to empower youngsters to participate and to contribute new ideas to develop tourism attractions in a sustainable way.
Throughout the years of working with different local communities in Baucau municipality, some in strategic touristic spots, short-training courses have been provided to encourage the combination of agricultural activities with tourism by promoting local natural attractions, with the possibility of providing accomodation and traditional food from their gardens. Some events such as rice and corn planting and harvesting can be made into tourism attractions, organizing festivals that can provide unique experiences to tourists while encouraging the practice of ancient songs and dances within the old and young generations.
daTerra’s core belief is that it is very important to present low budget ethical tourism examples, in order to inspire the young generation to stay or go back to their home towns and start small tourism businesses. The aim is to promote their traditions and cultural aspects as well their surrounding natural attractions, to generate employment for local people, to support the local market and to reinforce the importance of preserving their culture, their natural resources, with intergenerational gatherings to share knowledge and stories.
The eductional farm provides free school tours for both students and teachers promoting environmental education, sustainable agriculture and agro-tourism as well training. Since daTerra started promoting their activities in social media, the farm has become a tourism attraction for members of the Baucau community, such as young people, health workers, and local police and military. Youngsters, health staff, PNTL and militars have been some of the latest visitors.
To date, over 3,500 individuals have visited the farm, including 700 school students, 150 local teachers, government officials, international organizations and former Timor-Leste President and Nobel Peace Laureate Dr Jose Ramos Horta. “It has been really uplifting to see local guests getting inspired with the concept and willing to do something similar back in their home towns, said DaTerra Founder and Project Manager, Fernando Madeira, “Whilst the farm provides a deeper conection with nature and sustainable living, visitors can also realize the direct link between the land, the products and the food in the plate”. In a permaculture design, different elements are displayed in an integrated way, combining diverse aspects such as animal raising systems, worms and dry composting, tree and plant propagation at the nursery, seed saving, fish farming and water management. Compost toilets are presented as a model that can be adapted to all areas with special focus in places with difficult access to water.
Through its project “Sprouting seeds”, DaTerra has been establishing sustainable agriculture demonstration sites and collaborating with local farmers by providing training in sustainable agricultural practices and agro-tourism, as well distributing tree seedlings. Since 2011, the nursery has provided over 1500 fruit trees and other varieties to the surrounding communities every year.
DaTerra has had a difficult year due to Covid-19-related restrictions and the nursery was badly damaged during the catastrophic floods in April 2021. With a view to repairing the facilities and to becoming more independent in terms of tree distribution and collection of materials, the project has now set up a fundraising campaign. The campaign motto is “A Tree For A Dollar”, and it aims to distribute and plant 20,000 trees to raise the sum of $20,000. The pandemic and floods have caused a tremendous impact increasing the difficulties faced by most Timorese households. Some areas that were strongly affected have seen their access to food and goods blocked due to landslides over roads and brigdes destroyed, together with crops lost. These tragedies have revealed a stark image of something that was already a serious problem – food scarcity!
At the moment, DaTerra has around 10,000 tree seedlings growing in its nurseries, including 5,000 “Spinach Trees” – a very resilient tree and that is highly nutritious tree that can handle long periods of droughtand grows in any type of soil from sea level to mountain areas. It is a very fast-growing tree. The other 5,000 thousand seedlings are Neem trees, which is also very resilient, has medicinal properties and is used as a natural pesticide for agriculture. It is also planted wordwide to prevend soil erosion and landslides and can also be used as timber for furniture and construction as well as firewood. Neem can grow in any type of soil from sea level to 1200 meters altitude and can survive Timor-Leste’s long dry seasons.
Click on the GoFundMe link to make a contribution to the campaign: https://gofund.me/1f1ed9d7
For more information you can also consult the daTerra website: www.daterratimor.org
All photographs copyright DaTerra