19 April 2000



1. Overview

An FAO/WFP Crop and Food Supply Assessment Mission visited East Timor between 30 March and 7 April to; (i) assess current prospects for the main maize and rice harvest, which is underway or to commence in the coming weeks; (ii) review overall food supply prospects and the need for further food aid intervention during the 2000/2001 marketing year and (iii) re-examine the degree of vulnerability and ways to improve future food aid targeting. As information and essential data, especially regarding agriculture and social institutions, were largely destroyed during the unrest, the mission relied on published statistical data from Indonesia, discussion with key international and bilateral agencies, NGOs, the National Council of Timorese Resistance (CNRT), producers and on field visits to agricultural and vulnerable areas with varying degrees of accessibility.

The current mission provides an update to an FAO/WFP assessment in November 1999, that evaluated the level of disruption to the agriculture sector in the wake of intense violence and large-scale population displacement following the 30 August referendum for independence. At that time, it was estimated that many people were killed whilst almost the entire population was either internally displaced or sought refuge in West Timor. Infrastructure, essential services and property were also severely damaged, seriously affecting commercial and economic activities. In the agriculture sector the main repercussions of the civil unrest were the direct loss of food and seed stocks, loss of productive assets and displacement of the farming population. These in turn affected planting of main season crops in November/December. The present mission observed, that although these factors did affect agricultural operations, especially in delaying planting, the overall consequences on output are likely to be less pronounced than may have been expected given the level of disruption that had occurred to the sector.

Although maize planting was later, this season, compared to the optimum planting date, the delay itself will not seriously affect yields, especially as overall rainfall has been favourable due to La Nina. There was no major delay in rice planting, as the planting period can span from January to March, depending on the rainfall regime in a given year and locality. However to some extent there were additional constraints in rice planting compared to normal, due to delays in the timely return of displaced farmers, lack of animal and mechanized draft power and a labour constraint as farmers had to complete maize planting before they could commence with rice. However, this is unlikely to seriously affect overall productivity given favourable rains overall, and an extended season as rainfall is still continuing. In view of these factors, the output of maize and rice is expected to be satisfactory and certainly better than the severely reduced crop in 1997/98, due to El Niño drought.

In forecasting maize and rice production this year the main factors the mission considered were; The availability of agricultural inputs, especially seeds, the rate of return of displaced farmers and rainfall distribution. Adjusting (potential1) production to account for these factors, the mission forecasts production of maize in the current 2000/2001 (April/March) marketing year at around 94 600 tonnes and rice output (milled) at around 30 500 tonnes giving a total of approximately 125 100 tonnes. In addition, it is estimated that there are carryover food aid stocks of around 5 900 tonnes available either with agencies or at household level. Total availability of grains, therefore, is estimated at 131 000 tonnes. Against this, based on a mid year population of 800 000 people in 2000-2001, estimated utilization needs (food, seed, losses and closing stocks), amount to around 132 200 tonnes of maize and 43 400 tonnes of rice, leaving an overall cereal deficit, before food aid and commercial imports, of 44 600 tonnes. A considerable proportion of this deficit will be off-set by pipeline food aid pledges and cassava and sweet potato availability in cereal equivalent. Taking these into account, the net deficit in cereals would amount to 14 100 tonnes. Part of the net deficit will be covered by commercial/private imports which have been rising in recent weeks and part will need to be covered by additional food aid pledges.

Household food availability is highly heterogeneous across the country, with food availability and security being primarily a function of access to different types and quality of agricultural land and markets. Therefore, despite an improving food supply situation, the disruption to the economy, especially markets, and the loss of productive assets and income generating activities will leave large numbers of people vulnerable to food insecurity over the next year. Food security continues to be hampered in many areas due to disruption of internal markets, poor roads and decimated commercial and private transport systems. The situation is heavily compounded by the sudden cessation of access to trading, distribution and supply routes to West Timor and the rest of Indonesia. Hitherto, these were essential for a wide range of economic functions, such as wage labour, input supply and trading. The loss of this economic interaction, will particularly affect the livelihood of people in Oecussi, Suai, Maliana, and Ermera in the western region.

In rice marketing the end of BULOG2 operations has left a large vacuum in the way rice is procured and traded, whilst at village level a large number of traders, who bought from farmers and sold to local markets, have now left. Consequently, there are already concerns that producers will have considerable problems in marketing and storing surpluses of rice and, in particular maize, which this year, will be more susceptible to storage losses. The withdrawal of subsidised sales of BULOG rice in poor rural areas will also increase vulnerability to food shortages. This will be compounded by the significant reduction in formal employment, particularly in the public sector, which was of considerable importance in the past.

In general, data for East Timor are extremely scarce, most having being destroyed during the violence last year. The mission, therefore, made a tentative assessment of vulnerability based on (I) household income sources especially where these have been lost as in non-export cash crops, for which the internal market has collapsed due to unemployment and the lack of effective purchasing power and trade; (ii) the importance of coffee in household income generation (iii) late-returning subsistence farmers reliant on maize and (iv) female headed households. Based on observations and the factors above, the mission considers that around 46 000 people currently in Oecussi are the most vulnerable to food shortages in the country, whilst globally some 292 000 will need food assistance until income from mid-year coffee begins in June. From July, using the same proportion of people affected in the population, an estimated 285 000 people will remain vulnerable and need to be targeted for food aid.

In addition to food aid, significant international assistance is still required to rehabilitate agriculture and allied services such as marketing and input delivery. With appropriate interventions, there is considerable scope to increase productivity in agriculture which remains highly underdeveloped.


2. Agriculture and the Economy

East Timor's economy is largely dominated by subsistence, low input low output agriculture. The main system based on shifting cultivation has led to extensive deforestation and problems of soil erosion, especially as steep slopes and shallow soils characterize the terrain. The climate and pattern of rainfall also has an important bearing on agricultural output, with prolonged droughts followed by an intense rainy season, in which most annual precipitation is received in a relatively short period. This potentially affects soil minerals and structure, whilst fires employed in shifting cultivation can reduce soil organic matter.

Average annual rainfall ranges between 1 200 and 1 500 mm, with most concentrated in the south coast (1 500 - 2 000mm) and less in the north (500 - 1 000). Mountain areas, around Ainaro, Same, Lolotoi and Soibada receive between 2 500 mm and 3 000 mm per annum. Most rainfall is received during the northeast monsoon from November to March. In northern parts of the island, this constitutes the main wet season, whilst in the south, the rainy season is more prolonged spanning December to June, increasing the potential for secondary crop production of maize and possibly rice. Periodically the island is affected by El Niño related weather anomalies, which further reduce food production. The last serious occurrence of this was in the 1997/98-crop year, when serious drought affected a number of countries in the southeast Asian Region. It is estimated that around 600 000 hectares are suitable for agriculture of which approximately half are currently being used. An indication of rainfall distribution is indicated in Figure 1.

Although there is considerable potential in enhancing productivity, substantial investment will be needed to enhance the capital base in agriculture and in developing essential services like extension, marketing and input delivery systems. Within an appropriate policy setting agricultural development will be extremely important to future economic progress offering the greatest potential for exports and trade. Presently the sector provides the largest share to GDP, employs almost three-quarters of the workforce and provides over 70 percent with the main source of livelihood. In addition to enhancing productivity in cereal production, there is also considerable scope for developing important plantation crops, particularly coffee, cocoa and bananas.

In the longer term, there is potential for exploiting reserves of gold, copper chromium, gypsum, phosphate, graphite and asbestos. The country also has potential for developing known oil fields.

Main development indices show that the majority of the population falls below the poverty line, a large proportion is illiterate while the provision of services like electricity and water needs considerable development.

In addition to agricultural and property damage, East Timor lost essential human resources as educated leaders and service staff were specifically targeted in the violence, while the majority of civil servants left the province as many were Indonesian. The gap in administration, service and skilled personnel will invariably have an adverse affect on economic functions in the short to medium term.

2.1 Population

Before the crisis last year, the population of East Timor was estimated at around 890 000 people, with an annual growth rate of 2.4-2.6 percent per annum. Following the post referendum violence in many districts almost the entire population was displaced either internally or externally. Moreover, although precise figures are still unknown, it is estimated that many people were also killed, whilst several thousand still remain as refugees in West Timor.

The situation has continued to improve following Security Council Resolution 1264 and the deployment of an international peace keeping force (INTERFET). A large number of displaced people have already returned. Based on figures from UN agencies in Dili, the relative distribution of the population and returnees by district in the period November 1999 to February 2000 compared to 1998 is indicated in Table 1. Overall, by the end of February some 85 percent of the pre-crisis population or around 753 000 people had returned. This suggests that an estimated 134 000 people of the pre-crisis population are no longer residing in East Timor. The return figures for November are also indicative of the number of people that would have returned to undertake agricultural operations more or less in time. For example in important agricultural areas like Viqueque, the entire farming population would have returned by November enabling farming operations to commence in time.

For the purposes of the cereal supply demand balance sheet, the mid year population for the current 2000/2001 marketing year is taken to be 800 000, which assumes an element of growth and net returnees. This excludes a sizable number of the former population who may not return to East Timor , such as: ex Indonesian civil servants and their families; many small traders and merchants, including dealers in basic food stuffs; transmigrants originally from Indonesia; and people who did not support independence for East Timor. The population at the beginning of the 2000/2001 marketing year in April is estimated at 770 000.

Table 1: Population statistics 1998 compared to November 1999 and February 2000

Nov 1999
Feb 2000
Nov 99/1998
Feb. 2000/1998
34 922
32 225
32 225
51 082
38 142
49 034
57 289
40 378
43 225
93 551
63 501
63 501
86 933
51 656
67 437
60 839
40 062
48 746
156 488
138 777
138 777
90 795
73 394
75 692
52 487
53 268
53 760
55 580
21 934
38 603
39 674
36 365
36 557
43 419
40 716
40 725
64 627
64 907
64 907
887 686
695 325
753 189

Source: UN OCHA/WFP Dili.


The agricultural cycle in East Timor normally begins in November with land preparation and planting of maize, followed by nursery preparation and transplanting of rice in December/January. These activities coincide with the on-set of the main, northeast-monsoon, rainy season. Maize is harvested in April and wet season rice around May/June. In the south where there is a second rainy season and in areas with some supplementary irrigation it is possible to grow a second crop of maize or rice. The relative importance of this crop, however, is small. Cow peas and sweet potatoes are also cultivated at the onset of rains in November. In addition to cereals, cassava and sweet potatoes are important security crops and constitute the main source of food in difficult years, such as 1997/98, which was seriously affected by El Niño drought.

Compared to agricultural practices in previous years, the main factors, which potentially affected cereal production in the-1999 - 2000 season, were:

A. The availability of agricultural inputs, especially seeds
B. The rate of return of displaced farmers
C. Rainfall distribution.

Taking these in turn:

A. Input/seed supplies: Maize is the main staple in East Timor and the main source of carbohydrate in the diet. It is mainly cultivated under slash and burn systems, inter-cropped with cow-peas, cassava or sweet potatoes. Productivity and overall maize production, in common with other food crops, remains heavily constrained by low input use especially fertilizers and improved seeds. In addition to low levels of input use, other yield enhancing technologies, such as mulching and the use of nitrogen fixing legumes, also remains low. Consequently, yields remain well below potential, averaging around 700 kg per hectare on poor soils and 1 300-1 500 kg/ha on more fertile soils. Local varieties have short duration cycles, from 90 to 110 days. Under current systems, based on inter-cropping with several other crops, five to ten kg of seed are used per hectare. Available historic data, indicate that approximately 125 000 tonnes of maize is produced in normal to good years. Official statistics, particularly related to yields, however, are very difficult to reconcile with field observations and the general level of investment in crop production. Rice, is an important food and cash crop, planted in nurseries at the end of December and transplanted by mid January. The main rice crop is grown in the wet season from November to March, though it is possible to cultivate a second crop in around 10 percent of area, which has stream and canal irrigation. In areas with assured irrigation, yields of around 2 tonnes/ha of paddy can be attained, which could be increased fairly easily to 3 tonnes/ha with fertilizer use. Mostly traditional varieties of rice are used and to some extent improved varieties such as IR 64.

For the 1999-2000 marketing year, the main concerns were that most farms had lost seed supplies during the violence and subsequent burning of household stocks. In November, when the security situation improved, the first priority of International agencies was to evaluate seed needs and implement programmes to deliver supplies to deficit areas to ensure that production would be possible. For maize planting this was particularly critical, as the optimum time for planting was the end of November/early December. Moreover, it was observed that although there had been significant loss of traditional seed supplies in areas close to roads, which were easily accessible, areas that were more distant remained relatively unscathed. The overall assessment was that some 25 percent of the annual maize seed requirement of around 1 500 tonnes would need to be supplied by International agencies, principally to ensure planting in villages and areas in close proximity to roads. For the remaining areas, seeds were available from household sources and exchange. The maize distribution programme was highly successful, which together with local supplies meant that seed was not a significant constraint to planting this year.

Maize seeds, which were distributed, however, differed from traditional varieties in a two important ways. Firstly although they were high yielding varieties, yield potential would only be realizable under favourable and suitably managed soil/water conditions. In East Timor, however, given poor use of fertilizers, the nature of mixed farming and the lack of water assuredness, yield potential by and large could not be attained. This year, however, there was some yield advantage, as overall rainfall was favourable. The second way these varieties differed was in their storage potential. Whereas traditional varieties have been adapted and selected over time to minimize potential storage losses, the new higher yielding varieties supplied, will be subject to much higher losses as they are not physiologically adapted to conditions in East Timor. This year, therefore, post harvest and storage losses will be appreciably higher than in previous years, which will obviously have an effect on overall grain supplies.

Rice seed was not a major constraint, firstly because there was more time available before planting had to be completed (i.e. up to January/February) and secondly there were adequate seed supplies available overall. However, there were deficit and surplus rice areas, which were identified and a "food for seed exchange" campaign was initiated by WFP to procure seed from surplus areas for distribution in deficit areas. The campaign was also very successful ensuring that seeds were available with farmers in time for planting. A total of 350 tonnes of good quality seed of suitable varieties were supplied, covering approximately 40 percent of total requirement. Therefore, in rice also seed was not an important constraint to planting during the last crop season.

In addition to grains, a total of 110 tonnes of assorted, legume and vegetable seeds were distributed by NGOs.

B. The rate of return of farmers: An extremely important determinant of planting last season, was whether an adequate number of farm families would return in time to commence planting. This was especially critical as the optimum date for planting, at least for maize, was fast approaching. In general, return figures, which the mission has used as the basis for planting and hence potential production this year, suggest that the majority, around 78 percent of the population had returned by November. Moreover in important agricultural areas like Aileu, Baucau, Bobanaro, Covalima and Viqueque the rate of return of the population had been fairly high, ranging from around 60 to 100 percent. An important constraint that affected rice planting, however, was the lack of animal and mechanized draft power and to some extent the lack of labour, as farmers were either engaged in finalizing maize planting or in reconstruction of houses etc. However, since there was greater flexibility in rice planting, the effects on overall planting are not considered to be critical.

The areas most affected by delays in the return of farmers was in western areas close to the border, where the threat of renewed violence, from the militia, constrained farming operations. In general, even where delays were experienced in planting, the timeliness was less significant as an issue then may otherwise have been the case due to favourable rainfall overall. The rainy season started later than normal, allowing more time for planting, and is still in progress (into April) thereby allowing an extension of the season.

In areas where maize planting was delayed, the main concern was the increased possibility of downy mildew disease in the crop, which could potentially have affected yields and overall output. However the mission notes that no serious reports of mildew disease have been received.

C. Rainfall distribution: Even though no record of quantity and distribution of rainfall is available, there is widespread consensus that the rainy season this year has been favourable, in term of volume and overall distribution.

Taking points A to C above into account the mission concludes that the 1999-2000 agricultural season progressed relatively favourably, in particular with respect to constraints that were faced at the beginning of the season in November.

3.1 Regional Agricultural Overview

Bobanaro district is made of 6 sub-districts and is an important maize producing area, though rice is predominant in the sub-districts of Maliana, Ataibai and Cailaco. In normal years, main maize planting commences in November with rice planting following around December/January. In addition, a second rice crop is planted in March/April for harvest around September. During the current year, it is estimated that around 60 percent of the district population returned in time for planting maize, which resulted in a decrease in area planted. In addition, in view of destruction in this part of the country, farmers were also comparatively more engaged in reconstruction of houses than in other parts. Seed availability in the area, however, was generally good, though distribution programmes and household stocks. Rice production will be less affected by the rate of return of displaced since the planting season extends from January to March. However, some rice plots belonging to transmigration settlers, many of whom have not returned to East Timor, have not been planted or have been planted by others on an ad-hoc basis.

Covalima district produces a second crop of maize in addition to the main crop planted in November/December. The main maize crop accounts for around 67 percent of aggregate production. In the current season, although in the areas bordering West Timor almost no maize planting was possible, elsewhere in the lowlands and highlands away from the border some planting continued till mid January. However, in view of the proximity of the district to the border and late return of farmers, the average maize area planted per household was much lower than normal. As in Bobanaro, rice planting, which normally takes place in January, was significantly delayed due to shortage of draft power, fuel and labour. As a consequence, transplanting continued into March, at the beginning of which some 50 per cent of fields had been planted. Fertilizer supplies, principally of urea formerly from West Timor, was also unavailable which will affect rice yields. Rice seeds were also in short supply in some areas, though part of this was offset by local swap operations which transferred seeds from surplus areas to deficit areas. Overall, in lowland areas, the delay in rice cropping of one two months should not affect production, since reliable sources of irrigation water are available. Land preparation for second maize is also under way and area planted is expected to be well up on normal, to compensate for reduction in the first crop.

Liquisa district is not an important agricultural area, but is important for coffee, (Ermera). The district can be divided in two production zones; the highlands where coffee is produced and the lowlands where maize is cultivated. There is only limited rice cultivated, around Maubara sub-district. Generally, food production is insufficient to meet household needs and income from coffee is extremely important in ensuring household food security.

Population displacement from the district was high, while the rate of return has been comparatively low. However, in general, although the towns of Liquica and Maubara, in the lowland, and Bazartete in the highland were severely damaged, the impact on food and coffee stocks and production was limited. This was because production mostly occurs on fertile soils at altitudes above 500 meters where the level of civil disruption was low. By November, less than 40 percent of the pre-crisis population had returned. The low and late return of farmers, therefore, affected maize planting. Field observations indicate that many fields were planted too late and there will be an appreciable fall in output.

Baucau district is an important food-producing district, the main crop being rice, which accounts for two thirds of aggregate cereal production, with the remainder coming from maize. In addition, the district is also an important producer of beans, groundnuts, cassava and sweet potatoes. Compared to other districts Baucau is agriculturally more developed, being more mechanised and having access to better seeds produced at established centres. As a result, maize is rarely cultivated under traditional slash and burn systems, with most fields being tilled. Overall, better rainfall distribution together with good soils, make yield potential better than in other areas. Population density is also comparatively high in the district.

In the events following the disturbances last year, except for government buildings, few houses were destroyed. Most of the population took refuge in nearby hills. Although not reflected in official return figures, based on discussions the mission had with agricultural officials and farmers in the areas, most farmers appear to have returned in time to plant both maize and rice, the area of which is assessed to be near normal. Production this year, therefore, is likely to be normal to above average.

Lautem district is not a major food producing area. The main crop is maize generally cultivated under slash and burn systems. Rice is mainly cultivated in the northern lowlands around Iliomar and accounts for approximately 10 percent of district cereal production. In contrast, cassava, bananas and vegetables are extensively cultivated. Previously the district was an important livestock and fish producing area exporting to Dili and other urban areas. However, the high level of destruction (productive assets, households, household stocks/seeds) in the district together with high population displacement to West Timor (20 percent of the population) resulted in high animal mortality. In general, the return statistics indicate that most of the population returned in adequate time for maize planting. However, those who were in West Timor returned later which delayed maize planting. The dramatic fall in fish production will have a serious and negative impact on the livelihood of many families.

Manatutu extends from the north to the south coast. In northern parts of the district, rice is extensively grown, whilst in the central highlands subsistence agriculture based on maize inter-cropped with cassava beans, pumpkins and other species is practised. At higher altitudes coffee is cultivated.

The towns on the northern coast were totally destroyed, with most of the population taking refuge in the hills. Some 1 500 people were displaced to West Timor. No damage was done to rice fields and infrastructure. Most of the population returned in time for maize planting, whilst rice is still being cultivated. In southern Manatuto district of Bariques, rice production in transmigration settlements will be less than optimal due to departure of transmigrants and difficult access to the area. Overall cereal production this year is anticipated to be close to normal or to a relatively good year.

Viqueque district is a major maize and rice producing area. Rice is predominant in Uatularo and Uatu Carbau sub-districts, where 80 percent of the areas has the potential of producing two crops a year. The district was relatively unaffected by the civil disturbance last year, except in some isolated locations. Most of the population returned in time for maize planting, as a result of which production is expected to be normal to good in view of relatively favorable rainfall. Rice cultivation is currently under way and is also expected to be generally satisfactory except in western Viqueque District where agricultural output of transmigration settlements will be much less than optimal. As a main producer and exporter in the past, the main problem in the district will be the lack of milling capacity, as many rice mills are not operating due to lack of spare parts. In addition, transport remains a major constraint and the number of traders has declined markedly.

Dili is not agriculturally important with the overall area planted close to normal.

Oecussi is a main cereal-producing district, with rice accounting for around 60 percent of aggregate cereal production, mainly concentrated around Pante Macassar. Other areas in the district produce only maize. During the current season, the rainy season was somewhat delayed in the district, whilst only 70 percent of the population returned in time for maize planting. Due to poor security and extensive damage to infrastructure many areas close to the border were not cultivated. It is estimated that the area planted this year will be around 50 percent of normal, as many farmers did not return in time to complete planting.

3.2 1999-2000 Cereal Production

There is a major constraint in the availability of reliable time series data in East Timor on agricultural production and, indeed, on most social indices. Data that are available from Indonesia are considered to be biased and subject to various estimation problems. Certainly area and yield figures were felt to be dubious in view of the range of yield cited (i.e. 3.5 to 4 tonnes/ha). In view of this and the absence of disaggregated data the mission used available global production data for 1996/97 as the reference year for projection. To arrive at maize and rice production in 1999/2000 production in the reference year has been adjusted, to take into factors considered above in points A to C. See Table 2.

Table 2: 1999/2000 Rice and Maize Production

5 000
16 000
3 600
12 160
1 600
4 500
1 072
3 195
2 200
5 000
1 848
5 000
17 200
14 000
13 760
14 000
3 200
7 700
2 880
7 392
12 000
14 000
9 720
13 300
4 800
4 000
3 984
3 680
2 000
1 900
1 700
10 500
1 411
9 240
5 000
1 400
3 300
6 200
2 838
4 774
15 000
28 600
8 100
15 444
5 300
8 800
1 325
3 080
72 000
(43 200)
126 300
50 920
(30 552)
94 565

1 Milling rate for paddy to rice taken at 60 percent. Milled rice equivalent given in brackets.

3.3 Markets and Prices

In addition to the tremendous human cost, which came in the aftermath of the civil disturbances last year, food marketing systems and general economic and commercial life have been seriously disrupted. Normal economic activity in the territory continues to be hampered in many areas due to disruption of internal markets, absence of small traders and merchants, poor roads and decimated commercial and private transport systems. The situation is heavily compounded by the sudden cessation of access to trading, distribution and supply routes to West Timor and the rest of Indonesia. Hitherto, these were essential for a wide range of economic functions, such as wage labour, input supply and trading.

In rice marketing the end of BULOG3 operations has left a large vacuum in the way rice is procured and traded, whilst at village level a large number of traders, who bought from farmers and sold to local markets, have now left. Consequently, there are already concerns that producers will have considerable problems in marketing and storing surpluses of rice and, in particular maize, which this year, will be more susceptible to storage losses. Moreover, the lack of infrastructure and conveyance, make internal transport highly costly, which means that domestically produced rice cannot compete with imports, which are currently entering the market. Given the type and state of roads and transport, it is estimated that the internal cost of road transportation in East Timor is between 2.54 and 3 times higher than comparable costs in other low-income countries. With the emigration of large numbers of former civil servants and their families, the overall composition of demand is also likely to change in the future, from higher quality consumer goods to basic goods.

On the whole, although the price of staples in the post violence period rose, as would be expected given events, in the first few months of this year they stabilized and have now begun to fall. This decline is attributed to commercial imports and prospects of fresh domestic supplies from this year's harvest. In keeping with seasonal trends, prices are now also close to levels before the crisis. There are plentiful supplies of rice in Dili market, priced at between 3 500 and 4000 Rupiah/kg. Prices are also similar in larger towns such as Baucau and Los Palos, while in Viqueque, a rice surplus area, they are lower and range between 2666-3333 Rupiah/kg, depending on quality. Neither rice nor maize was available in the main market in the Oecussi enclave and only small quantities were in evidence in many other district markets. See Figure 1.

Undisplayed Graphic
Source: CARE Dili
Pre-crisis prices refer to August.
In view of transport and distribution problems, prices in Dili are lower than in remote parts of the country.

3.4 Food Supply/Demand Balance April 2000-March 2001

The cereal supply demand balance sheet for the current 2000/2001 marketing year is based on the following population, consumption and utilization parameters.

The cereal balance is outlined in Table 3

Table 3: East Timor - Cereal Balance Sheet (April 2000 - March 2001) Tonnes

Total Availability 2 
96 250
34 750
131 000
Opening stocks
1 650
4 250
5 900
94 600
30 500
125 100
Total Utilization 2
132 200
43 400
175 600
Food needs
107 200
39 400
146 600
Seed and losses
22 500
1 500
24 000
Closing Stocks
2 500
2 500
5 000
Deficit 2
35 950
8 650
44 600
- Food aid (pipeline)
8 000
10 000
18 000
Maize & rice deficit/surplus 3
(27 950)
1 350
(26 600)
Cassava and tubers4
12 500
Overall Cereal Deficit.
(14 100)

1 Milling rate of paddy to rice is estimated at 60 percent.
2 Figures rounded.
3 Figures in brackets indicate a deficit.
4 In cereal equivalent.

3.5 Nutrition

Although various NGOs have been collecting data on nutrition, to date there are no comprehensive estimates of the extent of the problem. In the coming months, however, better estimates are expected as the NGO, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) has recently initiated a nutritional surveillance system.

During field visits information was collected on the state of mother/child nutrition and MUAC measurements5, were made. However, these data must be considered only as being indicative and also regarded within the following context: (a) the assessment took place during maize harvesting, (b) surveys were conducted in villages with poor road access, and (c) only four villages were surveyed.

In total 114 children were measured non of whom demonstrated severe malnutrition. Five children were classified as moderately malnourished, 24 children as at risk of malnutrition and 22 at moderate risks of malnutrition. It was noted that although all children identified as moderately malnourished had suffered recent illness, none had been treated medically and no special consideration was given to the child's food intake while sick or during recovery.

In general, nutritional practices were observed to be adequate, though some women had a much lower ability to care for children and themselves. The majority of women interviewed maintained a reasonable birth-interval between children and had an average of 4.8 children. Nearly all women started families around 20 years of age. New-born infants were not observed to have low birth-weights and, on the contrary, appeared healthy and robust. There appear to be some cultural reservations regarding food consumption during lactation, with the consumption of oranges and other "sharp tasting" foods that often contain crucial vitamins and minerals. Most women breastfeed until the infant is one to one-and-a-half-years old.

Intra-household, feeding practices focus on children. Parents are concerned about their children's food intake. Children are fed first, then the elderly, and lastly the parents. There are seasonal variations in food intake within households. The lean season lasts from October until the March maize harvest. In times of low food availability, parents eat cassava keeping any rice for children under five years old.

Although some cases of severe malnutrition among young children and adults were reported, this is not likely to have been caused by the lack of food. There are two plausible explanations: (a) Among adults, death from "malnutrition" is the diagnosis given by villagers when viewing an emaciated corpse; however, this emaciation is often only a symptom of a much more serious and chronic disorder, such as terminal tuberculosis or cancer. (b) Among young children, real malnutrition is caused by customary practices that debilitate the child. The mission found, for example, that mothers in some areas will feed rice/maize porridge to children from weaning until the child enters school, at the age of six, without any other source of calories or nutrients being offered. Rather than being related to a lack of availability or access to food, such cases of malnutrition could indicate a need for a basic nutrition education campaign.

Appropriate nutritional information properly delivered is therefore vitally important. One of the problems that must be addressed a priori, however, is that of language and delivery mode. As of 1998, 52 percent of females over the age of 10 years had never been to school, and the same percentage were illiterate.6 In many parts of this small country, Tetum, the perceived lingua franca, is not understood - particularly by women - with only local languages being spoken.

In February 2000, WHO and the UN Transitional Authority for East Timor (UNTAET), together with local health practitioners, proposed a new structure for the Ministry of Health, though ultimately this will depend on funding. In the interim, international NGOs working in health have each been allocated one or more districts in which to operate. Primarily, they work at the clinical level; in some cases, however, initial rehabilitation of hospitals was necessary in order to enable staff to treat patients in a sound and healthy environment. At the end of March, it is estimated that an average of around 7 000 consultations were held on a weekly basis in over 36 health centres dispersed throughout Timor Lorosa'e,7 with the predominant diagnosis being upper-respiratory tract infection, followed by malaria and then by intestinal-tract disorders.

Agencies are only now starting to collect information on gender and UNTAET is planning a Gender Impact Assessment to determine the social impact of last year's events. As an indication, the only data currently available are from 1998 statistics and primary observations and discussions during field visits.

With regards to gender, women assume a traditional role in East Timorese society, providing food and care to children. In the interviews conducted by the mission with women, it appeared that they control food distribution and management in the household. As noted above, children are given priority in receiving food, with adults eating last. There appears to be no general trend of women eating last, although this may occur in certain villages. Women maintain that they eat the same quantity and types of food as the rest of the family.

Widowed and divorced women may head up to a quarter of all households in the country see Table 4. The violence and events after that August referendum undoubtedly changed the position. However, pending a comprehensive survey, the magnitude remains unknown. Trends from other countries, however, suggest that these households may be among the most vulnerable to food insecurity.

Table 4: Widowed and Divorced Women by District, 1998

Widowed women
Divorced women
Potential female-
headed households
% Potential female-
headed households
3 053
3 930
1 917
2 186
1 462
1 550
3 324
3 607
3 136
3 626
6 170
6 845
2 013
2 168
5 553
6 222
1 353
1 386
2 262
2 313
4 238
4 964
3 956
1 190
5 146
2 414
2 678
40 850
5 770
46 620

Source: Statistik Kesejahteraan Rakyat Propinsi Timor Timur, 1998.

4 Coping Mechanisms and Household Access to Food

4.1 Traditional Coping Mechanisms

Following Indonesia's withdrawal last September, various government support measures such as the sale of subsidised rice to poor rural families no longer exist. Household coping mechanisms employed by East Timorese are well developed in response to historical and repeated decrease in food security, including environmental stresses (El Niño events are typically associated with drought across the country) and political developments.

In urban areas, for example, wives of former civil servants have micro-enterprises within the informal sector, selling fresh or prepared food as well as non-food items. Households readily shift their consumption from rice to maize to cassava/sweet potato depending on purchasing power.

In rural areas and in the absence of rice (the preferred staple) or maize, households have traditionally increased reliance on tubers (cassava, sweet potato, yam, and taro), bananas, and sago in areas where they grow.

In both rural and urban areas, a primary coping mechanism is the cultivation of kitchen gardens. Also in both areas (since many urban zones are located within walking distance of inland mountains), gathering of wild forest foods, particularly tubers of various types, the roots of a palm-like plant, and fruits, can provide substantial amounts of food. Men and older women mostly engage in this activity. Men also hunt wild boar, deer, birds, monkeys, and tree kangaroos. Fishing also has importance near the sea or rivers.

Livestock (water buffalo, cattle, horses, pigs, goats, sheep, chickens, and ducks) are mainly kept as an income generating asset, rather than for consumption. It is rare for people to eat their own livestock, except during funerals and festivals. Occasionally, a household will slaughter an animal, but will poll its relatives, friends, and neighbors beforehand to ensure that the excess can be sold. Eggs are only infrequently consumed, as the preference is for poultry breeding. Mortality rates in livestock, especially poultry, can be high during the dry season (April-October).

Currently, households are reluctant to sell or consume livestock (or eggs) due to high losses during last years violence and the preference to rebuild stocks. Losses were especially acute in the Oecussi/Ambeno enclave.

4.2 Household Access to Food

Markets are re-emerging throughout the country albeit at below normal levels . Market surveys conducted in several locations suggest that prices are higher than they were at the same time last year, at a time when household purchasing power is very low or non-existent. Household interviews indicate that many are unable to make purchases of food and other commodities from markets. In order to generate cash, some market vendors try selling food items (such as oranges) at a very low price rather than being forced to discard large proportions of their production. In view of the lack of purchasing power, in some districts (such as Oecussi/Ambeno), markets, at present, appear to be more forums for social rather than economic exchange, as there are few buyers and many sellers.

Market opportunities are also hampered by the poor condition of many secondary and tertiary roads following this year's heavier-then-normal rainfall due to La Niña. In the southern coastal belt, even the primary road east and west out of Viqueque is cut and impassable in places. With the loss or destruction of much of the country's mass-transit vehicles, coupled with poor road conditions and difficulty in obtaining fuel, passenger fares alone are significantly higher, in some parts of the country, than before the crisis.

Income-generating possibilities are few, and formal employment has been greatly reduced by the lack of public sector jobs. While commercial trading within the territory is slowly increasing, trade with Indonesia (particularly across the border with West Timor) no longer exists, which will particularly affect the livelihood of people in cities such as Suai, Maliana, and Ermera in the western region.

Since their return as IDPs or refugees, many households have, and are continuing to, rely heavily on the production of kitchen gardens rather than on farming. In some western areas close to the border with West Timor, fear of militia activity remains pervasive and people are reluctant to clear and plant land. During field discussions with farmers, the mission noted that new returnees may not have sufficient vegetable seeds for the next planting season.

Coffee is the main export commodity and indeed the largest single source of jobs in the country.8 Private traders are fewer now than before September 1999, as many were resident non-Timorese. Thus, private buying from small farmers is likely to be lower this year, although early indications are that some off-island entrepreneurs may be slowly trickling back. The National Co-operative Business Association (NCBA) an NGO with a longstanding presence in the country, is the largest coffee purchaser. NCBA has 17 000 member farmers, and last year employed 3 500 persons in a 4-5 month long processing season. To assure quality, NCBA normally purchases coffee cherries only paying producers 60 percent of the export price, with profits reinvested in social services such as clinics. In real terms, last year this amounted to 1100-1500 Rp/kg, and the Co-operative expects a similar purchase price this year. However, NCBA is committed to purchasing at most 30 percent of the potential crop this year, which is forecast to be a year of high production, in view of favourable rainfall.

4.3 Household Food Availability

Household food availability is highly heterogeneous across the country, with food availability and security being primarily a function of access to different types and quality of agricultural land, irrigated, rainfed etc. Not all rural households have access to irrigated land for example. Among the villages visited by the mission, that grow irrigated rice, none remained unaffected by the civil disturbances last year. Irrigated rice areas, therefore, were observed to be lying fallow, due to damage to irrigation canals and/or loss of productive assets.

The loss of productive assets such as hand-tillers, livestock, fishing boats, together with food and seed stocks has seriously undermined household food security. Various rehabilitation activities, such as support with seeds and tools, are now being implemented which will improve the situation in the longer term.

To overcome the shortage of water-buffalo and tractors, both CNRT and international NGOs have been encouraging the formation of communal labor groups since January 2000. Autonomously, communal labor groups arose only extremely rarely. However, not every cooperative has successfully dealt with the institutional issue of how these productive assets are to be shared, or what benefit should accrue to owners. In such cases, individual households continue to labor on their own, sometimes with just hand-tools. In other instances, these institutional issues have been successfully solved, typically with money changing hands (at high rates - e.g, 100,000 Rp for trampling by a herd of water-buffalo; 150,000 Rp for a day's rental of a tractor) or with 50 percent of the ensuing yield being promised as in-lieu payment to water-buffalo or tractor owners.

Of the 26 communities visited by WFP, dispersed across the country from the Oecussi enclave to the eastern tip of the island, all groups interviewed cited an expected decrease of the maize harvest compared to the volume expected during an optimal season, one in which rains fall when due, and where pests are not present in anonymously great numbers. The most common decreases cited were in the 30-40% range. Reasons most frequently mentioned by farmers' focus groups were late planting and poor land preparation, problems with rainfall, and loss to rodents. While quantification of reduced yields is certainly imbued with inaccuracies, particularly when foreigners associated with a recognized food-assistance organization descend on a community by road - or worse, by helicopter - it is significant that in every instance actual and anticipated yields were reported as a decline.


5. Vulnerability

Data for East Timor are scarce, as a large volume was destroyed during the violence last year. In addition the quality of the data is questionable. A tentative assessment of vulnerability, therefore, is based on the following generalizations. The most vulnerable households are those that rely primarily on cash income from non-export cash crops, for which the internal market has collapsed due to unemployment and the lack of effective purchasing power, whilst no trade exists across the border with West Timor. Equally vulnerable until June/July are those households practicing mixed strategies of growing non-export cash crops and export commodity crops, for their income (dominated by the coffee sector) will once more flow significantly only as coffee-cherry sales begin. The third group of households likely to be moderately to highly vulnerable are late-returning subsistence farmers reliant on maize (i.e., those with scant or no access to irrigated rice fields). Figure 2, below indicates how these factors inter-relate. The first map illustrates the situation as of April 2000, with districts classified as "highly vulnerable" if they had a high reliance on non-export cash crops as well as a historically high reliance on maize as a fraction of the staple crops cultivated.9 The second map forecasts the situation in July 2000, a month or so into the coffee harvest. Significantly, this analysis does not take into consideration post-September loss of productive and household assets, nor the collapse of the formal and public sectors, simply because quantitative data do not exist. With this in mind, the situation as depicted in the maps for the districts of Oecussi (Ambeno) and Dili should not be viewed with complacency. Based on observations and the criteria above, the mission considers that Oecussi is the most vulnerable district in the country.

Figure 2. Current and Projected level of Vulnerability

Undisplayed Graphic

5.1 Quantifying Vulnerable Persons

In estimating the number of people who are likely to be vulnerable to food shortages it was considered that perhaps only 70 percent of widowed and divorced women remain heads-of-household, given cultural and religious conventions in East Timor. In other words, a large proportion of such families return the homes of parents or relatives. However, in the current circumstances of the country, the extra labor offered by such persons during normal times is offset by lack of economic opportunities as well as by the agricultural bottlenecks detailed above. Thus, it is reasonable to assume that as many as 90 percent of such households remain in a state of high vulnerability to food insecurity - indeed, their very presence in the homes of relatives may reduce the household to a state of food insecurity. Based on each district's average household size, the number of persons in the highly vulnerable group is calculated at 158 450 without accounting for any increase due to the violence last year.

In addition, the entire population of the Oecussi enclave can also be considered as being highly vulnerable, with the exception of those people living along the coastal plain near to the capital, Pante Macassar. The current population of Oecussi as estimated by the UN is 46 500, some 10 000 lower than September 1999. The Mission assumes that 75 percent of this population, or some 35 000 people, will require food assistance over the coming months. Returning refugees will likely balance out those persons not currently vulnerable.

Dili district poses a more complex situation, where the level of unemployment, especially amongst the young is extremely high, notwithstanding the importance of economic activity generated by the influx of U.N and other agencies. As a result the market in Dili appears to be flourishing, with commercial activity largely between local people and not locals and expatriates. Overall, therefore, there is no immediate risk of hunger in the district, though this could change if the status quo, employment etc, deteriorates. To assure that this does not occur, food assistance may be needed to assist one-quarter of the population not already aided under a female-headed households program, or some 37 500 persons.

Bobonaro and Covalima, the two districts classified as very highly vulnerable in Figure 2, currently have estimated populations of 67 000 and 49 000 persons respectively. Covalima is perhaps more vulnerable than Bobonaro, as it produces less cassava and tubers per caput. It is estimated that 40 percent of the population of Covalima (19 600) will therefore require assistance, compared to 33 percent or 22 100 in Bobonaro

Aileu, is classified as highly vulnerable in figure, and currently has a population of some 33 000. Assuming that 20 percent require assistance, this amounts to 6 600 persons. The two districts with moderate vulnerability, Manufahi and Viqueque, may require assistance for around 12 percent of i.e., 8 200 and 13 000 persons respectively.

Based on the above analysis, the total number of vulnerable people requiring food assistance, until income from the mid-year coffee begins, is estimated at 292 000. See Table 5.

Table 5: Projected Vulnerable Beneficiaries until July 2000

Vulnerable of
total, %
n.a.: female-headed hh
158 450
158 450
46 500
34 900
150 000
37 500
49 000
19 600
67 000
22 100
33 000
6 600
41 000
8 200
65 000
13 000

Repeating the exercise for the July 2000 forecast and using the same percentages for the population to be targeted by vulnerability classification results in the following figures: widowed/divorced female-headed households, Dili, Oecussi, Bobonaro, Aileu. And Viqueque remain unchanged at 158 450, 37 500, 34 900, 22 100, 6 600, and 13 000 persons respectively. Covalima declines to 9 800 persons. Manufahi is no longer vulnerable, but Baucau becomes moderately vulnerable, with 7 600 potential beneficiaries. Thus, the total number of potential beneficiaries as of July is estimated at 285 000. The VAM unit in Dili will continue to monitor the situation over the next few months, especially as the coffee and rice mid-year harvests come in. Table 6 summarizes the projected beneficiary numbers from July onward.

Table 6: Projected Beneficiaries from July 2000 Onward

Vulnerable of
total, %
n.a.: female-headed hh
158 450
158 450
46 500
34 900
150 000
37 500
49 000
9 800
67 000
22 100
33 000
6 600
63 500
7 600
65 000
13 000



6 Emergency Operations and Food Aid

6.1 WFP Emergency Operations

Within two days of the international peacekeeping force arriving in East Timor on September 23, WFP (under emergency operation EMOP 6175) began air dropping high-protein biscuits and humanitarian daily rations to displaced persons hiding for safety in the central highlands. Given increasing security and access to returning populations, land convoys and helicopter operations were able to deliver over 2 700 tonnes of food aid to returning population groups before November.

EMOP 6175 ended in November (with over 6 000 tonnes having been mobilized and delivered). It was followed by EMOP 6177 for six months (an extension in time is currently under discussion). The total volume of food distributed to date, through all sources, is shown in Table 7

Table 7: Food Aid Distributed under EMOPs 6175 and 6177 as well as by NGOs

Cereals (tonnes)
Pulses (tonnes)
Veg. Oil
Sugar, Salt (tonnes)
MREs (tonnes)
23-30 September
0 150
123 000
2 750
275 000
4 900
486 000
3 721
412 000
January 2000
3 698
371 000
February 2000
2 334
188 000
March 2000
1 772
183 000
Total WFP
Plus from CARE
Plus from ICRC
19 325
5 003
2 828
1 720
1 670
2 275
1 824
2 038 000
Total food aid1
27 136
5 665

1 The CARE pipeline has 3 000 tonnes of rice and 300 tonnes of beans scheduled for delivery by June.

In the first months of EMOP 6177, WFP undertook general food distributions for the majority of the repatriated population of East Timor. EMOP 6177 originally estimated a beneficiary population of up to 413 000, with half this caseload receiving full rations and the rest receiving half rations. In addition, WFP estimated that another 58 000 persons should be receiving a supplementary ration of blended food, although the level of supplementary feeding activities was lower than anticipated due to successful general distribution.

6.2 Types of Food Aid Interventions

As the political situation has stabilized and as people have tried to resume normal activities (although access to employment is still a major concern nationwide, particularly in urban areas), and as targeted feeding has been phased in, the total number of beneficiaries has decreased accordingly.

In fact, as early as January 2000, WFP's food partners (comprising international/local NGOs, UNTAET, and CNRT) decided to move towards targeted distributions, taking into the degree of self-reliance and level of disruption in livelihood. The carefully planned transition from general distribution to targeted feeding was introduced to avoid dependency, and expedite a rapid return to normalcy.

Since the beginning of the emergency, the role of food aid in East Timor has changed from maintaining nutritional status, providing a safety net, and avoiding further depletion of assets, to a continuum between emergency aid and reconstruction toward development. Although the initial objectives are still valid, the Food Group is now moving toward the reconstruction and recovery phase of its operation.

Food aid agencies have also more recently started utilizing food as a catalyst for rehabilitation activities. This is being done through projects such as food-for-work (FFW), school feeding (SFP), seed protection schemes, market interventions, seed-for-rice swap, and other projects geared towards helping local people in reconstructing/rehabilitating their country. These programs are detailed below.


7 Logistics

Given the lack of logistical capacity in East Timor due to the withdrawal of the Indonesian government and exacerbated by extensive damage done to an already limited infrastructure, WFP took a lead role in the provision and coordination of logistical assets. Thus, the Special Operation funded by donors (called SO 6178) allowed WFP to mobilize large transport capacity within the early days of the emergency.

WFP acquired warehouses throughout the ET territory. Once they were rehabilitated for the agency's requirements, these warehouses were also made available to international and national partners.

Since the beginning of the operation in September 1999 up to March 31 2000, WFP transported 23 000 tonnes of food aid by land, air, and sea. WFP gradually increased quantities moved during the first months of the emergency. Tonnage peaked at 5 000 tonnes in November 1999. Due to the ongoing and pending mid-year harvests of both maize and rice, estimated requirements until the end of 2000 indicate that requirements should decrease to 1 700 tonnes/month from May up to July 2000. From August to the end of December, food aid quantities will again increase to about 2 200 tonnes/month, due to needs generated by the annual lean season.

7.1 Air Operations

WFP's helicopter operations helped to persuade people who had fled the post-consultation violence to return to their place of origin, thereby pre-empting mass migration to urban areas. Moreover, air operations not only supported the food production potential throughout the country, they also averted population movements to nearby motorable roads were beneficiaries not to have received food aid locally.

As of end of March 2000, 2 100 tonnes have been delivered by helicopter to remote or inaccessible areas. Besides distributing food, WFP has been giving support to the program activities of NGOs and sister UN organizations.

Air operations will be scaling down as UNTAET, PKF, and NGOs identify and prioritize local emergencies and needs. To provide continuity in deliveries and assessments, WFP will continue to transport partners to areas without road access as long as its helicopter operations persist.

WFP terminated its "passenger airline" operation between Dili and Darwin, Australia in mid-January 2000. The Charter Air North has since successfully established the first International Airlines to cover the route. In addition, WFP is operating a Casa 212 three times a week between Kupang, West Timor and Dili. As of March 2000, 39% of passengers are from the UN system, 44 percent from the NGOs and the rest are donors and others.

7.2 Land Operations

Convoys moved 12 000 tonnes of food between September 1999 and March 31st 2000 out of Dili. Besides food, WFP road convoys have been assisting international and local agencies in transporting refugees, building materials, and non-food items.

Bad road conditions continue to reduce efficient access to Extended Delivery Points (EDPs); in particular, Viqueque town has been isolated due to road wash-outs and high water in the river fords. Due to the poor construction of secondary roads, WFP limits truck size to 5 tonnes to avoid infrastructure damage, which results in high transport costs (about US$0.30/tonnes/km, compared to about US$0.10/tonnes/km in countries where larger trucks may be used).

In an effort to phase out the use of the helicopter, and in consultation with local road officials, road assessments are being carried out to investigate the possibility of delivering commodities to some locations. WFP will consider undertaking some minor road repairs and road maintenance, such as properly installing culverts. Major road rehabilitation will continue to be undertaken by UNTAET, UNDP, the Asian Development Bank, and the World Bank.

7.3. Barge Operations

The vessel ET Carrier left the country on March 20 and will not be replaced by a WFP-chartered vessel. Besides transporting over 5 500 tonnes of food aid, the barge assisted international and local agencies in the transport of non-food items to Suai, Betano, and Oecussi. Three commercial operators have now entered the coastal shipping trade, and provide space for all clients.


This report is prepared on the responsibility of the FAO and WFP Secretariats with information from official and unofficial sources. Since conditions may change rapidly, please contact the undersigned for further information if required.

Abdur Rashid
Telex 610181 FAO I
Fax: 0039-06-5705-4495
E-mail:[email protected]

Ms. J. Cheng-Hopkins
Regional Director, OAC, WFP
Telex: 626675 WFP 1
Fax: 0039-06-6513-2863
E-Mail: [email protected]

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1 Production possible in an other-wise normal to good year.

2 The National Food Logistics Agency of Indonesia.

3 The National Food Logistics Agency of Indonesia.

4 Internal road transport costs in East Timor are estimated at around 30 US cents/ tonne/km.

5 MUAC (mid-upper arm circumference) is a quick method to assess (in times of emergencies) malnutrition among children ages 6-59 months. It does not replace the standard weight-for-height measure, but does offer a "snapshot" of malnutrition levels in a given locale.

6 Statistic Kesejahteraan Rakyat Propinsi Timor Timur 1998. Badan Pusat Statistik Timor Timur.

7 Compiled from the WHO's database of reports from NGOs in the field, commencing with week 39, 1999. Because of incomplete forwarding of records, numbers cited are undercounts.

8 All coffee is shade-grown and organic, although not all growers possess organic certification.

9 Staple crops are rice, maize, cassava, sweet potato, and potato.