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Ten years on from the vote for independence, Timor-Leste has secured its political freedom but many of its people remain among the poorest in the world.
The ‘hungry season’ is an annual reality for most families in Timor Leste. Around 90% of the population doesn’t have enough to eat between November and March each year.
Climate change is partly to blame. Ever worsening drought-like conditions have resulted in poor harvests that don’t provide enough food.
Children are particularly vulnerable to hunger: in Timor- Leste, almost 50% of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished — a major cause of child mortality.
Malaria, diarrhoea and tuberculosis are common childhood illnesses, and many children simply don’t survive. Even when they do survive, the effects of malnutrition are irreversible if not treated before their second birthday.
A total of 33 groups averaging 16 members, with 58% being women, received training in savings strategies and bookkeeping. These groups have saved over USD $28,000 and continue to report an increase in capital, with savings being used to establish micro industries (such as food kiosks) in order to improve housing conditions or to send children to school and university.
Project activities included training on management of natural resources and water, reforestation techniques to prevent soil erosion and how to protecting water sources like springs. Further training was given on disaster response preparedness, especially earthquakes, landslides and strong winds. Finally a film about screened about the impacts of climate change that led to 307 families diversifying their crops to prevent harvest failure.
A More than 1100 community members from 62 villages received training in food production including seed selection, planting techniques, use of organic fertilisers, sloping agriculture, instruction in land techniques and the creation of demonstration plots.
Trials in intensive rice farming also took place, resulting in a 60% increase in yield. Locally grown produce such as vegetables, sweet potatoes and rice were used by villagers for consumption and sale, thereby boosting nutritional intake and household income.
A total of 120 people received training on post-harvest management, resulting in 32 families using jerry cans and plastic drums to store their food.
Photo: Lorensa da Costa, 28, female community organizer, waters the community Oxfam-assisted vegetable garden.
The morning of Oxfam's visit, Lorensa had sold two of her garden’s rows of kankun (water spinach) for US$16.80. "I am like an important man since I joined the group, because everybody comes and looks for me when they want to buy vegetables."
"It’s very different now, things have changed a lot. After Oxfam came, we learnt how to plant, and after planting we can sell our vegetables for money. With that money we can support our families, we can send our children to school and we can buy food. "
"Since we have been eating fresh vegetables from the garden, I can see that my children’s health has improved a lot."
"Before my daughter was very skinny, but now she is healthy."
"Before my son wouldn’t eat very much. Before in our garden we only had pumpkins, or else the papaya leaf. The papaya leaf is very bitter, and the pumpkin leaf is not very good to eat. My son did not like to eat at all. But now we have our garden, and we can plant many vegetables, he now eats a lot of vegetables.
"There is a big change in my children. The Oxfam project taught us how to cook nutritious food, such as porridge with vegetables and beans, and now my children’s health is very good."