Cultivating Timor-Leste links

Victoria University’s enduring partnership with Timor-Leste was highlighted last month at an international conference focusing on the young nation’s food and nutrition future.

The two-day conference was held in the national capital, Dili, and jointly hosted by VU and Timor-Leste’s national university, Universidade Nasionál Timór Lorosa'e(UNTL).

The conference, Future Directions for Food in Timor-Leste: Improving Nutrition, Cuisine, Food Markets and Rural Livelihoods, featured discussions by Timor-Leste government ministers, international and local speakers, and academics and students from both universities.

Although 80 per cent of Timor-Leste’s population makes its living from agriculture, many traditional skills in food production, preparation and marketing have been lost due to the country’s unique colonial history, leaving it at the bottom of world nutrition tables today.

The conference focused on food production, distribution, financing, governance and infrastructure. A highlight was a pre-recorded interview of Australian restaurateur Stephanie Alexander by Vice-Chancellor Peter Dawkins about her Kitchen Garden Foundation and its role in promoting healthy food and nutrition for schoolchildren.

Prior to the conference, Professor Dawkins hosted a dinner of about 30 Timor-Leste graduates of Victoria University who returned home to take on roles as senior government officials and academics in their fledgling country. They included Dulcie de Jesus, now the government’s vice-minister for basic education, and Ego Lemos, an award-winning musician and a champion of the sustainable agricultural movement, permaculture.

The food conference, the third in a series of jointly-hosted VU-UNTL meetings on various topics, is the latest in a long list of VU–Timor-Leste collaborations. They include VU providing office space in Melbourne for Timor-Leste’s honourary consul, a VU scholarship program for Timor-Leste students, and student exchanges between both countries.

Early this year pre-service teachers from VU’s College of Education participated in a teaching practicum and cultural study program alongside their UNTL ‘buddies’, strengthening the common bonds of friendship, collaboration and learning longheld between the two institutes. 

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