Persistent drought and plagues of locusts ravaged Timor-Leste's harvest in 2007, cutting production of major crops by as much as 30 per cent and leaving one-fifth of the population in need of food assistance, says a report issued today by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).
To avert a major food crisis, between 210,000 and 220,000 vulnerable people living in outlying areas across the island nation will require more than 15,000 tonnes of emergency food assistance, particularly during the six months of the coming 'lean season', from October 2007 to March 2008.
"A poor harvest this year has worsened the already fragile livelihoods of people all over Timor but especially among the poorest people living in rural and more remote districts," said Anthony Banbury, WFP's Regional Director for Asia.
"And for many of those displaced by the conflict during last year's crisis, who continue to live outside of their communities, a restricted domestic food supply means they will continue to rely on food assistance," he added.
The new report, based on a joint assessment mission carried out by the two UN agencies in March and April, suggests substantial reductions in all of the country's crops due in large part to recurring drought, especially on the north coast, and an outbreak of locust infestations in the western regions.
Production of maize, Timor's most important crop, declined by 30 per cent to 70,000 tonnes. Output of cereals, cassava and other tubers dropped by 25-30 per cent while rice production decreased by 20 per cent.
"Producers are in urgent need of maize and rice seeds, fertilizer and other agricultural inputs to prepare for the next cropping season," said Henri Josserand, Chief of FAO's Global Information and Early Warning System. "We need to continue to closely monitor the drought situation and any further locust infestations to help provide Timorese farmers with the best information and assistance."
The cereal deficit in 2007/08 (April/March) is estimated at 86,000 tonnes. With commercial imports anticipated at 71,000 tonnes, including an expected Government purchase of 16,000 tonnes for a national strategic food reserve, there remains a cereal deficit of 15,000 tonnes that will need to be bridged through international food assistance.
The FAO/WFP report also noted that the severe food crisis earlier this year, with commodity price hikes and the virtual disappearance of rice from the market, highlighted the need to improve food security policies, strategies and implementation mechanisms.
In addition to those affected by crop failure, Timor also has nearly 100,000 internally displaced people living in Dili or with relatives in the districts as a result of the political crisis that began in 2006. The IDP households have been supported with food assistance since May 2006. n view of the needs in Timor, UN agencies will be seeking funding for critical agricultural inputs and food assistance.