Food and nutrition security in Timor-Leste: challenges and prospects

Paediatric nutrition Agriculture Food industry and trade Nutrition Food security Timor-Leste

Timor-Leste’s food and nutrition insecurity is a multifaceted legacy of its history of occupation, conflict and underdevelopment. As most of the population relies on subsistence farming for their livelihoods, household food insecurity largely stems from poor agricultural productivity and the resultant low levels of disposable income to spend on purchasing food. As a result, many households experience annual food shortages. Malnutrition is also a particular problem in Timor-Leste. Stunting, where a child is too short for their age, affects almost half of children under the age of five. Malnutrition directly impacts a child’s health and hinders their physical and cognitive development, which results in barriers to reaching their best performance in school and work. Consequently, Timor-Leste’s high rate of malnutrition impedes the population’s ability to break the cycle of poverty and, at the national level, is a burden on national development. As a Least Developed Country, with a high poverty rate, achieving food and nutrition security is crucial for Timor-Leste’s development.

Key points:

  • Timor-Leste has one of the highest rates of malnutrition in the world, with 46 per cent of children under five suffering from chronic malnutrition.
  • Many subsistence households experience annual food shortages, largely due to poor agricultural productivity and insufficient output to last the year. Climate variability worsens shortages and severely impacts household food security.
  • Timor-Leste relies on food imports to offset domestic production deficits, leaving the population vulnerable to the impact of global price changes. Poorer households, which spend a high proportion of disposable income on food, are the most vulnerable.
  • Food and nutrition insecurity will continue to retard Timor-Leste’s development, particularly given the long-term impacts of climate change and population growth.
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