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Irrigation and drainage

Evolution of irrigation development

Following an overwhelming vote for independence from Indonesia in an United Nations-backed plebiscite in August 1999, pro-Jakarta militias destroyed most of the infrastructure including irrigation and water supply systems. A country that was in ruins is slowly rebuilding itself with international help. Since October 1999, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has been playing a key role in the irrigation sector. In a rapid response to a potential food crisis resulting from lack of cultivation during the rice planting season in Manatuto, 80 km east of Dili, UNDP designed an irrigation project to rehabilitate the damaged rice watering systems. This enabled farmers to restart rice cultivation. The rehabilitation work also provided employment and modern technology for rice cultivation was passed onto farmers (UNDP, 2000).

Before the destruction in 1999, the total design irrigation area in Timor-Leste was an estimated 72 159 ha covering more than 427 schemes. In 2002 only 34 649 ha or 48 percent was left, of which 5 384 ha are technical schemes, 7 770 ha semi-technical schemes and 21 495 ha traditional schemes (Table 5 and Table 6). MAFF is also transferring the irrigation schemes to community-based management.

This will be a long task involving significant cultural change and the irrigators are only slowly starting to take over themselves, since all operation and maintenance before was done by the Indonesian administration. Irrigation demand is presently low because of the lack of commodity marketing arrangements, conveyance systems and infrastructure, which makes internal transport highly costly (ADB, 2002). Based on national reports, and the situation in neighbouring Indonesia, the area irrigated by groundwater is about 2 percent of the total area equipped for irrigation (Figure 2).

The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) implemented the Irrigation and Rice Cultivation Project in Manatuto District (06/2005-03/2010). This was to improve productivity of rice on approximately 505 ha of the irrigated area. The objectives of the project was to improve the existing irrigated rice farming system on around 505 ha and establish a functional water Uuser association (WUA) (JICA, 2008).

JICA has supported the Rehabilitation and Improvement of Maliana I Irrigation System Project (02/2008-11/2008). This aimed to distribute a stable supply of irrigation water to Maliana I Irrigation area. This was accomplished by rehabilitating the Maliana I intake weir and irrigation canals and constructing related facilities. The project expected to increase the amount of water taken from Bulobo river and to expand the irrigation area from 600 ha to 1 050 ha to increase rice production (JICA, 2008).

Role of irrigation in agricultural production, the economy and society

Rice is the key food and cash crop. The major impediments to rice cultivation are the shortage of irrigation water and the lack of cattle and tractors to speed up cultivation. The main rice crop in Timor-Leste is grown in the wet season from November to March (UNDP, 2000).

Less than 20 percent of the irrigated rice areas produce a second crop of rice within the year. Yield per hectare is low compared to other rice-growing countries in Asia, largely because of poor application of improved technologies including use of quality seeds, fertilizer, and sometimes the limited supply of irrigation water. Because of high cost, among other reasons, farmers do not normally use fertilizer to produce rice. Use of poor quality seeds, poor soil conditions, drought, and occasionally pests and diseases are the usual causes of low maize yields. About 81 percent of households grow maize (MAFF, 2004).


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       Quote as: FAO. 2016. AQUASTAT website. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Website accessed on [yyyy/mm/dd].
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