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Paving the way to inclusive rural development in Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste needs to promote sustainable, inclusive employment and growth in its rural areas, where 70 per cent of the population live, if it is to achieve its development targets. To help, an ILO infrastructure project is finding work for women and those with disabilities in the agro-forestry sector.

Feature | 05 September 2019
More than 90 kilometers of rural roads in Timor-leste are rehabilitated and maintained by Timorese contractors, as part of an ILO-led project Enhancing Rural Access Agro-Forestry Project (ERA Agro-Forestry)
Baguia, Timor-Leste (ILO News) – Rui Guterres struggled to support his family of three children by a mixture of rice farming and rearing animals. He hoped for a job that would provide a more regular income. But, when, in September 2018, he heard of a road building project in his village, Baguia, in eastern Timor-Leste, he thought his chances of getting hired were limited.

Guterres, 32, was born with a damaged right leg. “People are all different, but being disabled is a whole different ball game,” he said. “Still, I went and attended meetings in the village to learn more about the project and, who knows, take a chance.”

Mr Rui Guterres
At the meetings he learned that more than 90 kilometers of rural roads in his area were to be rehabilitated and maintained by Timorese contractors, as part of an ILO-led project Enhancing Rural Access Agro-Forestry Project (ERA Agro-Forestry). The project, funded by the European Union (EU), aims to promote rural development and social inclusion.

“The workforce for the rehabilitation and maintenance projects is recruited from the communities adjacent to the roads,” explained Albert Uriyo, project manager of ERA Agro-Forestry. “The programme benefits local communities by boosting local economies through wage transfers, building workers’ skills, and providing an opportunity for individuals – in particular the most vulnerable, such as people living with disabilities, to gain experience with more formalized employment.”

Particular focus on disability inclusiveness and gender equality is incorporated in the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the local communities and the contractors – around 40 so far – carrying out the work.

ERA Agro-Forestry project focuses on disability inclusiveness and gender equality
The inclusive approach is part of the Social Safeguards Framework that has been adopted from the Roads for Development Programme (R4D) and which includes Health and Safety Related provisions and Equality and Child Equality Provisions [task-wages; gender; disabilities; no tolerance for sexual harassment].

Guterres landed himself a job as an unskilled worker with one of the companies implementing the project, Caidadale Unipessoal, Lda. The company also received training from the ILO’s ERA Agro-Forestry Project.

“I am very happy to be able to have a regular monthly income and because of it, I can now fulfill my family needs. My family now lives better than before because their daily needs are being met unlike before. I intend to use the surplus from my earnings to open a small business, a kiosk maybe,” he said.

The road to inclusiveness and empowerment

Another of ERA Agro-Forestry’s social targets is to ensure that a third of its employment days (totalling 450,000) benefited women. Maria Angelina Guterres – who is not related to Rui – was one of those who benefited. The 27-year-old mother works as a supervisor for one of the other contractors, Jatono Unipessoal Lda. Before taking the job she worried about the challenge it would present because she had no training in labour-based road maintenance.

Ms Maria Angelina Guterres
For both Maria and Rui Guterres, a project like this, which leaves no one behind, is very important for all East Timorese people.

But, at the Don Bosco Training Center, she took a 2-month training programme and learned techniques for business and contract management. “I’m now equipped with the skills I needed to carry out my duties as a Supervisor”, said Maria Guterres. “I’m also being recognized for my ability by my peers.”

“Women in Timor-Leste continue to be underrepresented in the labour force, particularly in rural areas where formal employment opportunities may be limited,” said Uriyo. “Perceptions about women’s capabilities, domestic responsibilities, and physical demands of certain types of work may also discourage them from seeking employment outside of the home.”

Since June 2017, the project has trained 25 contractor companies in effectively implementing and supervising road construction projects that ease access to markets and remote areas. Coaching and mentoring to ensure the effective transfer of skills are part of the programme.

However, challenges remain for women in “technical” fields and those with higher skill levels. Maria was one of only three supervisors, out of a total of 46, trained by ERA Agro-Forestry in the municipality of Baucau. According to Albert Uriyo “It is an uphill road challenge which requires greater participation by women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics [STEM], and efforts to encourage more women participation in technical fields.”

“This will develop employment, income support, skills, and access to agro-forestry product markets. The key is to empower local populations in an inclusive and sustainable development process,” concludes Albert Uriyo.

For more information please contact

Albert Uriyo Project Manager

Rural infrastructure development is a target of UN Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger. See how the ILO is working towards the achievement of that goal.