Seeds of Life researcher receives Queen’s Birthday honour
No one was more surprised than Rob Williams to learn he had been awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) as part of the recent Queen’s Birthday Honours list. The award recognises Rob’s 'service to overseas humanitarian aid projects, particularly through the Seeds of Life Program in East Timor.'
'I am honoured by the award,' Rob said from Dili where he has worked for more than a decade, primarily in East Timor’s agriculture sector. 'I didn’t relocate to East Timor in search of fame or recognition. I came to assist struggling Timorese farmers improve agricultural techniques and yields. To me, that is the biggest reward.'
As former team leader and now research advisor to the highly successful Seeds of Life program, Rob has been instrumental in efforts to introduce higher yielding seed varieties to thousands of farms across the country. 'While I have been singled out, the award equally pays tribute to the excellent work of the Seeds of Life program. The whole team deserves recognition, especially the program’s Timorese staff who are taking on more and more of the responsibility for this work.'
Seeds of Life, supported by AusAID in partnership with the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), has been working to improve food security and reduce hunger in East Timor since 2001. The program is helping to develop better yielding varieties of staple crops including rice, maize, sweet potato, cassava and peanuts.
Seeds of Life crop varieties are currently being used by 21,000 farming households, benefiting around 125,000 people. These varieties give yields that are between 24 and 159 per cent better than existing varieties.
Thanks to improved seed varieties, farmers are now able to grow more and better crops to support their families and improve their nutritional needs. In the past, Timorese farmers struggled to produce enough crops even during the best of times. During a bad season, families went hungry. However with support from Seeds of Life, farmers today are now able to produce plentiful crops and sell the surplus for income.
For Rob, seeing farmers sell their produce at markets is a huge thrill: 'I have seen some farmers earn enough cash to install tin roofs to their homes. In the villages of rural East Timor, this is a significant achievement'.
To give even more farming families access to improved food crop varieties, Phase Three of the program commenced last year. By the end of 2015, around 81,000 farmers (approximately 71 per cent of farmers in East Timor) will have access to Seeds of Life varieties.
'Through Seeds of Life, we are making a positive difference to people’s lives,' said Rob. 'We have made an impact in every district across the country but there are still more people to reach. Until then, the job is not done.' Rob is expected to officially receive the medal in his home town of Brisbane in October.