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Timorese food sovereignty advocate receives Ramon Magsaysay Award

Global warming, climate change, and the long list of environmental and social issues in their wake are now the biggest threats to mankind’s survival. Their adverse effects on food production and our quality of life are truly severe.

Despite this looming threat, it seems like people continue to turn a blind eye to them. And with each day that passes, the state of the planet worsens, and at an extremely rapid pace.

Such massive issues require equally massive solutions. Who would have thought that the significant first holistic step in making a much better world would bloom in the person of Eugenio "Ego" Lemos of Timor-Leste?

A champion of local communities and food sovereignty, 51-year-old Ego is a singer-songwriter and activist who utilizes permaculture as a way to promote "a whole way of looking at nature and people."

For his notable work across Timor-Leste and beyond, he received a Global Peace Prize in 2019.

In 2023, he is one of the recipients of the prestigious Ramon Magsaysay Award, the third Timorese to be conferred such an accolade.

Molded by a traumatizing childhood

The most challenging and depressing times in Ego's childhood served as one of his main sources of motivation.

He lived through the Indonesian invasion of Timor-Leste and its eventual civil war that made the country an independent nation. Although a huge leap for liberty, this left a majority of the population below the poverty line.

Ego lost his father and siblings during the war, and his mother became his inspiration to never give up and survive. He would work with her on their farm for many years.

After spending most of his early years tending crops, Ego became extremely proud of his culture and tradition. He nurtured a deep love for the environment, which is one of the major foundations of his indomitable spirit and identity.

Discovering holistic agrosystem management

Wanting to put his farming experience to better use, Ego decided to study agriculture at a local university, where he was involved in different activities promoting organic farming.

In 1999, a rare opportunity arrived that changed his life forever. He studied under an Australian permaculture trainer who visited Timor-Leste to teach farmers. With his guidance, Ego learned the ropes of permaculture and sustainable and self-sufficient management of ecosystems.

Ego saw that many of its elements were easily applicable and directly compatible with the Timorese agriculture methods he grew up with. This newfound knowledge planted the seeds in his mind and heart that he was destined to set out on a much bigger journey—touching the lives of others to do their part in preserving the planet.

Establishing ‘Permatil’

In 2001, Ego co-founded Permatil, an organization that makes "permaculture tools and knowledge accessible to everyone across the globe," with the tagline "We’re bringing the world to the table!"

Their main mission is to empower local communities to do the necessary work not only to achieve food security but, most importantly, food sovereignty. By promoting permaculture in every town and region, Ego and his team guide the people on what it takes to produce their own nutritious food without relying on external resources or providers. Hence, elevating local crops and farmers like never before.

Aside from boosting local farming through permaculture, Ego also encourages every individual to do what they can to help in the daunting task of caring for the environment, even in incremental efforts and outside of farming lands.

Ego advises every family to put up their own vertical gardens, which are suitable for urban areas or houses with limited spaces, as well as rain collectors that will allow them to conserve water. He also invites everyone to do seed bombing when traveling, which involves rolling soil with different seeds into balls and throwing them at random areas.

Educating the youth

Bringing permaculture into the mainstream in Timor-Leste, Ego decided to reach out to the people who will inherit the world and many of its unsolved problems: the youth.

To educate the future generation about food sovereignty, Permatil started introducing a Youth Training Program. Usually held for three days, its participants are exposed to the various ways of farming, aquaculture, agroforestry, organic food preparation, gardening, and natural resource management. More than 5,000 young individuals have been trained since 2008. 

In 2015, Permatil introduced a School Garden Program to the education curriculum, which is being offered in more than 250 schools today.

Expanding the mission worldwide

Recognizing that the work of saving the environment is not only reserved for the Timorese, Ego decided to take the leap and start creating a global impact.

Permatil flew to different countries to present at various conferences talking about the benefits of permaculture, particularly in far-flung and underserved communities. They are also working with the International Permaculture Education Network (IPEN) and many other sustainable associations around the globe to spread the message of food sovereignty. 

They also released a permaculture guidebook, which is being used in many tropical countries. Its 2020 updated version has more than 80,000 chapters.

The global expansion of their mission is not only a testament to their dedication to inviting everyone to take a stand for Mother Earth. It is also their opportunity to showcase the indigenous agriculture practices of the Timorese to other cultures, which Ego has incorporated into their unique permaculture method.

Undertaking an overwhelming task

Ego knows that the quest for zero hunger and food sovereignty will not be easy-going. Nevertheless, he devotes his time and talent to spreading the permaculture model across Asia and eventually the whole world.

For him, there is no turning away from climate change anymore; we are on the point of no return. The land is bare and in need of regeneration. Clean water is scarce and must be conserved. Fortunately, local communities still have so much to offer when it comes to sustainable food production. All they need are the right tools and the appropriate opportunities to do so.

Ego says that technology is not enough to gain food sovereignty. Despite the many digital advancements today, mankind still manages to create more problems than solutions. This is why Ego’s advice to all, especially government leaders and persons of influence, is to think wisely.

"Don’t think only of how to create benefits for business without thinking about the impact on the environment," he said. "As world citizens, everything we do has an impact on others. We have one atmosphere, one water, and one air.


Radio Veritas Asia (RVA), a media platform of the Catholic Church, aims to share Christ. RVA started in 1969 as a continental Catholic radio station to serve Asian countries in their respective local language, thus earning the tag “the Voice of Asian Christianity.”  Responding to the emerging context, RVA embraced media platforms to connect with the global Asian audience via its 21 language websites and various social media platforms.