Development Half a World Away: Field Visit Day Two and Departure
By Frank Young, USAID’s Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia

It was the second day of our field trip to visit USAID projects in rural Timor-Leste.  That morning, we headed down the mountain to participate in a harvest ceremony of high-value horticulture crops being grown in new greenhouses supported by USAID.  It had been raining buckets over night, and we encountered a large tree that had fallen across the road, cutting off our route.  There was no way to drive around it, and it was far too heavy for even four of us to move.  I took a machete and, alongside the driver, started hacking away.  After a few minutes I let more expert people take over the chopping and instead took up dragging the large limbs to the side of the road.  Within a half hour we were back on our way.

The greenhouses in the village of Liure house row after row of massive red tomatoes and capsicum like nothing I had ever seen in size or quality.  They smelled wonderful and were virtually unblemished.  Everything was organic:  no pesticides and only organic fertilizer.  In the outside fields nearby, broccoli and cauliflower were also being grown.  Projects, like the one USAID supports there, help farmers produce locally at prices competitive with imported fresh products.

My final stop was the Timor-Leste Coffee Cooperative’s coffee sorting and bagging operations.  I walked into a long, narrow area housing 700 women, who sorted out coffee beans with even the most minor flaw.  Those beans are sent elsewhere to be made into instant coffee.  I then watched the beans being loaded into 160 lb. bags, which are carried one by one and put into large shipping containers for export.

On my final day in Timor-Leste, Mark White, the Charge’, and I spent an hour with President Ramos-Horte, a Nobel laureate who led the struggle for the country’s independence in the 1990s.  Later, we met with the Finance Minister and discussed prospects for replicating and scaling up our successful agriculture projects (beyond coffee) for national scope and impact.  We then dashed to a meeting with the donor community, where I got a candid reading of the relationship between donors and the government and what their plans are going forward in terms of assistance.

Finally, I had lunch with Mission staff to talk about my impressions of my four days in country and about what is going on in Washington that is of relevance to them—and, most important, to listen to their thoughts and concerns.

When I returned to Washington, jet-lagged and aching from the long flight, the cup of coffee I sipped never tasted so good – and it brought back vivid memories of the outstanding work USAID has done and continues to do in tiny, distant Timor-Leste.

Reflections From the Road — Part One