Development Half a World Away: Arrival and Field Visit Day One
Submitted by Frank Young, USAID Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator for Asia
I touched down at the one-building international airport in Dili, Timor-Leste, on July 24 and was met by Mission Director Mark White. As we dashed to his car, he told me that he had determined that Timor-Leste is the farthest USAID Mission in terms of travel time from Washington, D.C. My stiff back concurred.
We left the next day for a two-day field trip outside Dili. First stop was the major coffee-drying operation of the Timor-Leste Coffee Cooperative (CCT), operated by the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), which has been building this sector with USAID support since 1994. Acres of green Arabica beans were spread out on plastic sheets—it was the height of the harvest season—as workers used long-handled spreaders to continuously turn them over to dry in the hot sun. It’s labor-intensive work for the almost 3,000 person workforce that earns about $3.50-$5.00/day.
Later, we headed up 5,000 feet into the mountains of central Timor-Leste to the village of Maubissee, where the major collection and washing operation of the coffee cooperative is located. I learned en route that the cooperative will export $11-12 million of green beans this year from Dili’s port to buyers that include Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, and occasionally Caribou Coffee. The operation pumps about $14,000 a day into the local economy through its labor force.
Coffee production is one of USAID’s long-term success stories in Timor-Leste. Our investment is paying dividends now in employment, agricultural development, and economic growth for Timor-Leste. Coffee production has done so well, in fact, that USAID support is no longer needed (the cooperative agreement ends this year). However, we still support several other areas of NCBA’s work in Timor-Leste, as I would see at my next stop.
Late in the afternoon I visited one of CCT’s health clinics and learned that the government of Timor-Leste relies on these clinics in the coffee-growing areas where it is not yet able to deliver services. With USAID’s support, and revenues from coffee operations, the clinics are able to offer free health services to everyone in the coffee-growing regions, not just the members of the cooperative.
The entire staff of the Maubissee clinic gathered, and I told them how impressed I was by what they are able to do for the community in the small but well-equipped clinic and how thankful I was for their dedicated service and passion to serve the people who so badly need what they offer. The Timorese head of the clinic, Ms. Marcy, began to cry. I suddenly felt badly that somehow I had offended them with the few words of Tetum I uttered. No, they tell me; no one had come this far to thank her and the staff personally for the long hours they put in day after day.