Food Security in Timor-Leste: Empowering Families for Self-Sufficiency

Chiquito in his farm in Timor Leste. Photo: Tim Lam/Caritas Australia

By Tim Lam, Content Marketing Manager

Timor-Leste is a country of contrasts. It is a land that experiences extreme drought during the dry season and destructive floods during the rainy season. 

It is a young country emerging from the shadows of a brutal decades-long conflict with Indonesia. Nearly every family has been touched by the dark years of occupation. The scars of the past still linger, and healing and reconciliation remain ongoing processes, even twenty years after independence.

There is hunger, but there is also hope. There is suffering but also a determination to survive and thrive.

Why is there food insecurity in Timor-Leste?

Despite progress in tackling poverty since independence, accessing food in Timor-Leste remains an ongoing issue for many families. Nearly 1 in 4 people go to sleep hungry every night.  

Persistent poverty and income inequality exacerbate food insecurity in Timor-Leste. An estimated 42 percent of the population live under the national poverty line. Many rural households rely on subsistence agriculture for their livelihoods, but limited access to resources, education, and employment opportunities perpetuates cycles of poverty and vulnerability. Poor access to markets and limited transportation options hinder farmers' ability to sell their produce and access essentials like seeds and fertilisers.

This is on top of existing shocks, such as severe flooding in recent years, the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and record high food prices.

Vulnerable groups such as women, children, and the elderly, are particularly affected by food insecurity. In fact, Timor-Leste experiences some of the highest rates of undernutrition in the world. Approximately 47 percent of children under 5 years of age are stunted and 8.6 percent suffer from acute malnutrition.

Chiquito and his family in Timor Leste. Photo credit Tim Lam for Caritas Australia.

How does Caritas Australia support farming families in Timor-Leste to tackle food insecurity?

I recently travelled to Timor-Leste to meet a farmer named Chiquito, who is the father of two young children. He became the main income earner for his family after his father passed away.

On our way to Chiquito’s home, I saw just how parched the land is during the dry season. Creeks and rivers were entirely dried up. The intense heat under the sun was energy-sapping. I can only imagine how hard it must be for farmers like Chiquito who toil endlessly for hours each day to ensure their farm produces enough food to feed their families and sell at markets. 

Before he joined the Sustainable Livelihoods/Disaster Risk Reduction program supported by Caritas Australia and our local partner Caritas Diocesana Maliana, Chiquito’s family faced the prospect of not having enough food on the table. They only just produced enough food from their family farm to survive. Sometimes they didn’t have enough money for basic health care and medicine.  

Through the programs that generous people like you help support, farmers like Chiquito can learn skills in sustainable agriculture that enable them to maximise the use of their land to grow a wide variety of crops.

The program also helped develop Chiqutio’s business skills and he can now access markets in the capital Dili and sell his vegetables for income. He can plant seeds in accordance with supply and demand to generate a healthy profit.

Chiquito's story

When I met Chiquito, he proudly showed me photos of his farm just before harvest. It was flourishing with a diversity of vegetables and crops that he had grown. I had the privilege of meeting his family, who are also supported through the program. Chiquito’s sister and mother are part of a women’s savings and loans group that supports them to become financially independent.

Our team in Timor-Leste remarked to me that the change in Chiquito has been truly remarkable. He now speaks with pride and confidence. Farming is sometimes seen as an inferior occupation in Timor-Leste, but Chiquito is now proud to be a successful farmer. He is investing the profits from his harvest back into the farm and offering employment to two other workers.

There is an orphanage just across the road from where Chiquito and his family lives. He shares his skills and knowledge with the nuns at the orphanage, helping them make the most of their farmland.

Chiquito leads by example to show his community the change that can happen through dedication and perseverance. In fact, many people in his community have been inspired by his success and are now keen to follow in his footsteps by joining the program.

Chiquito’s story demonstrates that at Caritas Australia we are simply partners in their solutions. Farmers like Chiquito already have the solutions. They are the ones who use their knowledge and skills and apply it to their farms. Their incredible resilience is what will help make hunger history for their families. Our role is to be there alongside them, supporting them with the resources and training they need to thrive.

This End of Financial Year, you can help communities like Chiquito’s to make hunger history. Your donation can help change lives for generations to come.