Agribusiness Training Gets Long-Term Lifeline from Government

Originally published on November 10, 2014.

BACET designed, developed and implemented a one-year vocational training program at three government-funded agriculture high schools, which have already graduated nearly 300 students since the effort began in 2008. Seeing only success in a USAID-funded project that provides specialized training for high school students, the Timorese Ministry of Agriculture assumed responsibility for all BACET project components.

Ipolito da Costa, the National Director for Technical Education and Training at the Ministry of Agriculture, says the impact of the program has been very important “in terms of improving the capacity of our young people involved in our three agriculture technical schools.”  He said that before BACET began, students were unable to get a well-rounded education. “After a student graduated from the agriculture schools, they didn’t have enough skills to implement their knowledge in the field. That’s why the BACET program is very useful. After the students finish their three years of general study, they have one more year to get specialized skills and practical training,” says da Costa.

BACET essentially built the vocational program. “We equipped the schools, trained the teachers and built the curriculum,” explained Michael Parr, Chief of Party for Land O’Lakes International Development, which is the organization implementing BACET.

Parr says there is a strong emphasis on practical training because it didn’t exist before BACET. “Basically, it’s a change in the educational system to teach practical skills-based learning. It’s ‘learning by doing.’” The coursework can be demanding, but also rewarding.  For instance, students who take the agribusiness course have to produce a business plan for a grade, which they can then submit as part of a business plan competition. “Seven of them were awarded $500 each through our competition, which was sponsored directly by Land O’Lakes.” Parr noted that the plans had “good structures and attempted to generate cash flows. They had all the components of a business plan.”

Among the nearly 300 BACET graduates, 70 percent have either found jobs or are continuing their education at a university.  Mario Soares decided to create his own job after he graduated from the BACET program in 2010. The 23-year-old is the co-founder of a company called Hagulos, a farm production group that grows and sells a variety of vegetables in the western East Timor town of Nunura, which is in Bobonaro District. “If I run my own business, it is better than a government job. With my business, we earn money every day. We don’t wait until the end of the month for a salary and I don’t have to do only what the boss tells me to,” says Soares.

He says the skills he learned through BACET are vital to his success. He acquired basic bookkeeping skills, added practical knowledge in agribusiness, learned how to use a computer and brushed up on his English. “I learned skills during the BACET program and I use these skills in my work and to earn money. I can use the money to help my family when necessary.”

BACET graduates at new vegetable production job.
Da Costa, at the Ministry of Agriculture, says while the future of the program after BACET will depend on the budget, he is confident it will survive. “We provided in our annual action plan to continue the BACET activities. We have the facilities to continue the same or a similar program.”
BACET worked closely with another USAID-funded program that allowed the students to get hands-on experience working in greenhouses and specially-designed outdoor plots. USAID’s Developing Agricultural Communities project hosted six student interns at its Aileu project site and has hired four BACET graduates as agricultural technicians. “They were employed because they were high quality. They had a job opportunity and they were better prepared to be employed, which is the goal of the course,” says Parr.

Aderito Riberio, 22, graduated from BACET in 2009 and feels that he now has a leg compared to other university classmates.  He’s studying animal husbandry at the National University of Timor Lorosa’e in Dili, and says he feels the vocational training prepared him for college. “At BACET, I learned anatomy and this has helped me greatly at the university. Some things are new for my friends, but I am able to learn more quickly because of my previous experience.”

All of these people are contributing to the development of this new democracy. In 20 years, they will remember that it was the support from USAID that spurred their new endeavors and success.