Building Timor-Leste

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Just cut the Cabbage.

I once had an extremely competent colleague in New York who loved to refer to office nonsense as “cabbage”.

“Oh they were just talking alot of cabbage”, he used to say.

“Lets cut the cabbage”, was another expression he liked to use.

However, some time ago I was driving through the central region of Timor-Leste and came across a mountainside of cabbage. The real thing.  It was near Atara in the Atsabe area, Ermera District.  This is one of the more isolated parts of the country as it sits at almost the very top of the mountain chain that runs more or less east-west along the middle of the country.

Red Arrow points you to Atsabe

This cabbage presented itself to me in what seemed like a wave of terraces. It was really quite impressive. I thought to myself that few people outside of Timor-Leste realise the extent to which there is some small but considerable potential for agribusiness in the Timorese hinterland. What strikes me is that quality issues, supply chains and all that stuff aside that there is a massive demand in Indonesia for stuff – be it cattle, mungbeans, soybeans etc.  I suppose harnessing that demand in order to create systems whereby that stuff can end up on Indonesian plates is the way to go.

Anyway, what about “Timorese Cabbage Soup” on Jl. Thamrin in Jakarta one day?  With a population 225 times the size of Timor-Leste, Indonesia is jam packed with “demand” for potential Timorese “supply”.

Here is an idea.  What about the notion of reparations for damage and destruction for the 1975-1999 period via redressing the trade imbalance between the two countries?  Perhaps the Indonesian Government could grant Timor-Leste a range of advantages?  Dropping trade barriers?  Direct investment?  Training of business people and farmers?  Certainly there are very major obstacles to increasing the trade of cattle to Indonesia.

If you want to buy these cabbages, or anything else for that matter, contact the Peace Dividend Marketplace Timor-Leste project via and we will help you get in touch with the growers.

Anyway have fun looking at the now famous “Cabbage Terraces of Atsabe“.

Cabbage Terraces of Atsabe

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  1. Mas Edward,

    Next time you’re hanging out in Ubud you should catch up with Pak Henry for a latte. He knows a lot about coffee too.

    In the meantime, here’s a taste of what has gone before you.

    Salam hangat.

    Pak Kentang & Ibu Kol

    The Singapore Market for Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

    This market survey was produced by the USAID-funded Agribusiness Development Project (ADP) in Indonesia. It was authore by Henry Harmon, Marketing Advisor, in June 1994 in Jakarta.


    1. In 1992, Indonesia exported some US$32 million of fresh fruits and vegetables to worldwide destinations.

    2. Of this, almost US$24.5 million went to Singapore, but as will be seen, Indonesia’s overall market share of the total Singapore market is only 4.2%, and the overwhelming majority of Indonesian exports to Singapore are concentrated in just a few items: coconuts, cabbages and potatoes, all relatively low value products that have the advantage of being simple to grow and requiring only minimal postharvest handling.

    Further reading is here:

  2. Edward Rees says:

    Here is a useful offline comment from a friend:

    “What’s he want to send cabbage here, there’s already too much.” BTW, it was hard to do.

    A more intermediate goal, which you’re already onto, would be to sell more cabbage to the Timorese themselves – cabbage from Atabae to Los Palos. Not as ambitious as the voyages Captain Cook made on cabbage, but even achieving that would be a success.”

    My response: As for cabbages to Jl. Thamrin, it was just an example. But very good point on cabbage from Atabae to Los Palos.

  3. Edward Rees says:

    Pak Kentang – this is very interesting. Please send me some contact details. Edward

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