Since its independence in 2002, Timor-Leste’s social and economic policies have focused on alleviating poverty to address the immediate needs of the people, consolidating security and stability, and providing a foundation for nationhood through building institutions. Despite these efforts and its richness in resources, however, the country remains poorly developed.
More than 40 percent of the population live in poverty and malnutrition rates are among the highest in Asia. Just over half the children aged up to 5 suffer from stunting, where a child is too short for their age, and 11 percent suffer from wasting, where a child’s weight is too low for their height.
Poor maternal and child health and nutrition result from many factors, including food taboos and dietary practices that lead to low consumption of nutritious food; unavailability of fortified nutritious foods; inadequate knowledge of good child feeding practices such as timely initiation of breastfeeding and appropriate complementary foods; high incidence of acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea; poor access to and uptake of health services; inadequate sanitation and hygiene practices and geographical isolation.
Timor-Leste’s main economic sector is subsistence rain-fed agriculture, on which 80 percent of the country’s poor and 90 percent of the rural poor depend for their livelihood. The main risk of food shortages occurs during the October to March lean season, when food stocks run short and the new harvest is not yet available.
Owing to underdeveloped marketing systems, a lack of agricultural equipment, fertilizers and irrigation facilities, and considerable post-harvest losses, local food production is insufficient to meet national requirements.
Timor-Leste is strongly affected by natural disasters and climatic cycles such as El Niño. Floods, strong winds, drought and pest infestations occur yearly, and the resulting loss of food production aggravates food insecurity and vulnerability.
What the World Food Programme is doing in Timor Leste
To prevent malnutrition and improve the nutritional status of children under 5 and of pregnant and nursing women, WFP provides specialised nutritious foods, rich in protein and nutrients, to 59,000 people in six of the most affected municipalities. In partnership with the Ministry of Health, WFP is producing locally a nutritious fortified food for pregnant and breast-feeding mothers, called Timor-Vita.