Seeds of hope are being sown in Timor-Leste
In Timor-Leste, they call it the hungry season.
For up to four months a year, the Timorese struggle to feed themselves and their families.
Ten years after winning its independence and despite the income from oil, the country's economy is still in its infancy and its people are, at times, struggling to provide life's basic necessities.
William Erskine, a professor at the University of Western Australia, has seen the scale of the problem first-hand.
"The diets are woefully inadequate in that at the end of the rainy season they have a hungry period in the countryside, which is about two to four months long, when they don't have enough to eat," he said.
But, an ongoing project, known as the Seeds of Life, is attempting to break the cycle of enduring hunger.
At its most basic level, the program works by improving the productivity of the nation's staple crops of cassava, maize, rice, sweet potato and peanuts.
The UWA's Director of Agriculture, Kadambot Siddique, helped get the program off the ground.
He was keen to act after realising shipping food to hungry people was only ever going to be a short-term approach.
"When Timor-Leste won its independence, there was no system in place for agricultural research and development; the Indonesian regime always brought in whatever food was needed from elsewhere," he said.
This is a real problem for a country with a high population growth.
Farmers are struggling to keep up and provide enough food, says Professor Erskine.
"Whenever you move in East Timor, there's kids everywhere, there's a sea of people that come up to your waist," he said.
"So we're trying to keep up with, and cope with, the very high population rate."
"What the project is trying to do is increase the production of the staple crops."
The Seeds of Life focuses on long-term approaches to food sustainability by developing crops, rather than importing them.
It is also set up to train locals to continue running the program.
As a result, Timorese agricultural science graduates have been studying at the University of Western Australia, adopting various strategies to learn how to improve crop yields.
One of those students is Modesto Lopes, 28, who wants to return home armed with knowledge to improve the quality of life for farmers in his country.
"As a Timorese, I have a moral responsibility to my country," he said.
"So, when I return to Timor I will contribute what I have learnt here with other colleagues to develop an agriculture sector."
For Mr Lopes, the program has already changed the lives of the country's farmers.
"Farmers have increased their household income and the program has also provided assistance to farmers," he said.
Professor Erskine says under the program poor farming families are allowed to sell some of their crops in the local market.
"These farmers have never had cash in their hands so the stories we get from these farmers is that some are able to pay for sick relatives to go to hospital and get medical care," he said.
"It's just extraordinary what some people do, this is game changing stuff."
Mr Lopes says he hopes the initiative will break the cycle of hunger.
"Hopefully, hunger and food insecurity will disappear," he said.
Another Timorese student Marcelino Da Costa says he hopes the program will reform the way farmers are living.
"I want this program to increase productivity, reduce farmers' dependency on food imports, which will lead East Timor (to) having food sovereignty," he said.
Professor Siddique says such sovereignty can be achieved.
"This is a wonderful program which will have a long-lasting footprint," he said.
"Within the next decade, we will see prosperity in Timor-Leste which will lead to fewer problems, and eventually peace in the region."
The program isn't without problems.
Weevils and rats continue to attack the maize, eating roughly one-third of all the farmers' crops but this is where the research is invaluable.
The program, which has had millions of dollars pumped into it over 10 years, is supported by various arms of the Federal Government and the University of Western Australia.
And, it keeps growing.
Aid organisation AusAID estimates that by the end of next year, 60,000 farmers will be using higher-yielding crop varieties as a result of the program.
It's received high level support with prominent politicians jumping on board.
Professor William Erskine was working with farmers in Timor's Maliana, just south of Dili, when a Black Hawk helicopter emerged from behind a mountain range.
When the door opened, Australia's Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd came out, closely followed by the Timorese President Jose Ramos-Horta.
They were there to meet Timorese farmers to discuss the success of the project.
"East Timor is on a better path towards overcoming what is still a horrendously high malnutrition rate among its people and among its children where we still see evidence of stunted growth," Mr Rudd said at the time.
They also looked at the next stage of the program which will introduce a wider range of crops including bean, potatoes, wheat and barley.
Researchers and students alike now hope that by the end of the five year period, more than half of all farmers in Timor-Leste will be planting improved varieties of food crops.