'It was terrific to be able to access the MAF aircraft for our project work. We have done it twice now. In both instances the need arose from having to get people to and from sites quickly – and save us from broken backsides from many long hours on difficult roads!'
That's the response of Geoffry Fordyce, the Senior Research Fellow for Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation at the University of Queensland, who leads an Australian Government project in Timor-Leste for the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).
ACIAR, partnering with another Indonesian led project, is working in Timor-Leste to develop smallholder cattle farmers' capacity to increase their wealth, in a country where farmer income is very low. Income is so low in fact that these farmers and their families have limited access to food, let alone health and education.
ACIAR's research examines suitable forages (grasses and other plants eaten by animals), appropriate cattle management practices, marketing (a central theme), and how to successfully achieve uptake of better options by farmers.
This project, which has been going since mid-2012 initially focussed primarily on developing capacity of agency support staff who work with the farmers. When the project was visited and reviewed on 28 and 29 January this year the team from Australia, Indonesia and Timor-Leste wanted to see if there were tangible results.
That's where MAF came in. Over two days, Pilot Michael Bottrell flew them to three different airstrips (Same, Maliana and Los Palos) in order for them to see the project first-hand at different locations. The weather on one of these flights was difficult, but only extended their flight time by about ten minutes. Michael noted wryly that since 'their average speed driving the route works out at about 12mph, they didn't mind an extra 10 minutes too much!'
No other way
Just back from the two-day trip, Geoffry was enthusiastic about the project and about MAF. 'No other way could we have done what we've been able to do with these guys in the last couple of days,' he said. 'From a cost – benefit point of view, we're way ahead.'
And there was an unexpected benefit of flying. Geoffry concluded, 'A major bonus from using the aircraft was funnily enough to get an aerial perspective of where we are working. As always in these situations, we ask many questions, but often we get the answers to other questions (due to language differences and innocent misunderstandings).
When we got in the air, we developed a very new perspective on farming practices across the country and that will greatly help us in our future work.'