Food Insecurity in East TimorEast Timor, a small nation located in Southeast Asia, is grappling with a silent crisis that continues to haunt its people – hunger. Despite some remarkable progress since gaining independence, food insecurity in East Timor remains a pressing issue for many Timorese, threatening the well-being of its population and hindering the nation’s development.

Current State of Food Insecurity in East Timor

East Timor’s history is marred by conflict and political instability, which has had profound implications for its food systems. According to the Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2022, East Timor ranks 110th out of 121 countries, indicating a serious level of hunger. The GHI measures hunger on a scale from 0 to 100, with higher scores indicating more severe hunger. East Timor’s score of 30.6 places it in the category of “serious” hunger levels.

The challenges faced by East Timor in achieving food security are multifaceted. One crucial factor is the limited access to arable land. The country’s mountainous terrain and limited fertile areas make agricultural cultivation challenging. According to the U.N. Human Rights Office, only about 11% of East Timor’s total land area is suitable for agriculture, severely constraining the potential for increased food production.

Furthermore, extreme weather events pose a significant threat to food security in East Timor. The country is prone to cyclones such as El Niño, floods and droughts, which can lead to the destruction of crops and livestock, undermining farmers’ livelihoods and exacerbating hunger. Recently, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that the 2021 Cyclone Seroja in East Timor alone caused an economic loss of approximately 20 to 50% of the country’s GDP with total recovery costs of $422 million (25% of non-oil GDP).

Actions Addressing the Challenges

To address these challenges, the East Timorese government, with support from international organizations and NGOs, has implemented several initiatives. For instance, The World Bank’s Timor-Leste Agriculture Rehabilitation Project, launched in 2001, aims to improve the productivity and resilience of smallholder farmers by providing training, access to agricultural inputs and market linkages for the country post-independence.

Additionally, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been supporting the establishment of agricultural cooperatives in East Timor. These cooperatives enable small farmers to pool their resources, access credit and receive training in modern farming techniques, thus enhancing their productivity and income.

Infrastructure development is also crucial for improving food security. The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has been supporting East Timor in developing rural road networks and irrigation systems, totaling their investment of up to $210.83 million in irrigation and agricultural infrastructure. These investments are vital for facilitating the transportation of goods from rural areas to markets, reducing post-harvest losses and improving farmers’ access to inputs and services.

– Kent Anderson
Photo: Unsplash

Hunger in East TimorThe situation in Timor Leste (East Timor) has been characterized by war and oppression for decades. In 1975, after Portuguese colonialism finally abdicated control of the region, there began a brutal war between the people of Timor Leste and neighboring Indonesia.

The war resulted in a 24-year Indonesian occupation of Timor Leste, and a cumulative death toll of 200,000 people – nearly one-quarter of the current population. Throughout the country’s occupation, there were guerilla movements working to remove Indonesia from power. However, the final decision to leave Timor Leste to its own devices came after a change of leadership occurred in Indonesia and U.N. intervention.

The Timorese voted for independence in 1999 – the result was a 78 percent majority. Unfortunately, the vote was far from respected. Those who did not wish to be independent of Indonesia instigated yet another insurgency against the majority of Timorese, necessitating more direct United Nations involvement. Finally, in 2002, after two years of U.N. Peacekeeping presence, full independence was attained.

However sweet this victory may have been, it did little to alleviate the problems of poverty, malnutrition and hunger in East Timor. Hunger is arguably the country’s most urgent problem. It affects nearly 100 percent of the population.

In 2010, 57.7 percent of children under the age five were classified as stunting, a term used to describe the condition of weighing too little for your height. Other indicators of malnutrition, such as wasting and generally being underweight, are prevalent, indicating that the situation is dire.

One of the many organizations working to mitigate the effects of hunger in East Timor is Oxfam Australia. The work they do is primarily aimed at educating the public, generally women and children, about the effects of malnutrition and specific ways to increase their family’s consumption of important nutrients.

In classes that they term “supplementary feeding courses,” they demonstrate how to cook nutritious meals, process fresh food so it lasts longer and which ingredients have the highest protein content.

This program, coupled with the organization’s efforts to work with local farmers on improving agricultural yields for their farming cooperatives, has been a formidable attempt to arm Timorese communities with life-saving nutritional and agricultural knowledge.

-Katarina Schrag

Photo: Flickr