BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home June news

"Efforts to reconstruct East Timor from ruins, including rebuilding the agriculture sector, are being made by UNTAET, ETTA, and national and international NGOs, together with donor countries and donor institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. However, due to limited human and natural resources and some ineffective management systems, these efforts have not yet yielded significant results. This is very disturbing, because a failure to address the pressing needs of the agricultural sector could eventually lead to social and economic instability and increased environmental fragility." Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e / The East Timor National NGO Forum

Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e
The East Timor National NGO Forum
 

Kaikoli Street,  Dili-East Timor  telephone 322772/  etngocentre@hotmail.com


AGRICULTURE
 

BRIEFING PAPER TO DONORS MEETING
CANBERRA June 2001
 

1. BACKGROUND

The tragic brutality and anarchy of September 1999, which was an expression of the political frustration of the Indonesian military high command and its militia puppets, systematically destroyed East Timor’s infrastructure and superstructure, including farmer assets and other agricultural assets. In addition, the conflict as well as Indonesian practices prior to 1999, especially the forced movement of people associated with control of the population and a program of transmigration, dislocated many farming families from their traditional lands.

Most East Timorese live in rural areas and are employed in some sub-sector of agriculture of a subsistence and traditional form. This includes many women and children who traditionally have carried out many aspects of farming, especially on household farms. Over many centuries, farming families have acquired knowledge and skills that have enabled them to sustain themselves in an often harsh environment. At the same time, some traditional farming methods have contributed to present day environmental problems.

Without being fully aware of all the long-term consequences, farmers have been engaged in shifting cultivation, using practices of slash and burn with short rotation cycles, burning of grasslands and bushlands, unregulated livestock grazing, and uncontrolled cutting of fuelwood and timber. These practices have contributed to severe environmental degradation, including widespread damage to watersheds. Meanwhile, land use has been ineffective, with a lot of land left idle. The negative impact of harmful practices and ways of thinking, coupled with external factors, such as droughts and floods, poor market access and prices, and lack of agricultural inputs, are greatly influencing household incomes, with the result that harvests only meet household consumption needs for around five to seven months out of each year.

Efforts to reconstruct East Timor from ruins, including rebuilding the agriculture sector, are being made by UNTAET, ETTA, and national and international NGOs, together with donor countries and donor institutions such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. However, due to limited human and natural resources and some ineffective management systems, these efforts have not yet yielded significant results. This is very disturbing, because a failure to address the pressing needs of the agricultural sector could eventually lead to social and economic instability and increased environmental fragility.
 

2.  NGOs ACTIVE IN THE AGRICULTURE SECTOR

At least thirteen international NGOs have been or are currently involved in agricultural projects (see Annex A). In addition, over a hundred national NGOs are registered as having had some interest in or as being actively engaged in the agriculture sector (see Annex B). Many of these national organisations have local knowledge and connections, but most lack resources and support.
 

3. MAIN ISSUES

NGOs have identified a wide range of agricultural issues. Some relate to urgent needs of the sector, such as the lack of access to markets, the lack of accessible agricultural inputs (seeds, tools, etc), the lack of manageable credit, unresolved disputes over land ownership and use, the lack of access to up to date information, the lack of training in needed skills, the absence of agricultural policies (for example, regarding the harvesting of forest products, methods of fishing, the use of fertilizers and pesticides, and the regulation of domestic and international markets), and the lack of a nationwide mechanism for responding quickly to agricultural crises (such as an outbreak of a livestock disease).

Other issues relate to the implementation of projects by agencies, problems such as the lack of involvement of farmers in agricultural projects, the inequitable distribution of replacement livestock and equipment, the lack of follow up regarding training in the use and maintenance of equipment, and damaged irrigation systems still to be repaired.

NGOs are aware that the donors and implementing agencies have also identified such needs and deficiencies.
 

4. MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS

The problems in the agricultural sector need to be addressed by adopting a planned system of sustainable agriculture that is integrated with other sectors. “Sustainable” here means not only economically sustainable, but also environmentally and socially sustainable.

Initial focus: rehabilitating and strengthening livelihood systems
In the first phase of national economic development, priority ought be given to agriculture and small-scale industry. In agriculture, the initial focus should be directed at restoring agricultural assets, consolidating food production, increasing farmer incomes, and creating small business opportunities that will supplement rural development (for example, the development of rural banks and local abattoirs). These initial efforts should concentrate on rehabilitating and strengthening livelihood systems. Where efforts are made to promote production of export commodities for international markets great care should be taken not to endanger peoples livelihoods by making them overly dependent on cash crops that are vulnerable to volatile international market prices (for example, coffee). Similarly, given the system of subsidies that operated under Indonesian rule, great care must be taken with any move to a “user pays” system for basic agricultural inputs (for example, extension services provided by the Pilot Agricultural Service Centres), to ensure that agricultural communities have adequate resources to obtain the necessary inputs without further threatening their livelihood systems.

Looking forward: planning and policy development
Longer term planning and policies need to be aimed at developing diversified and sustainable agriculture integrated across the various sub-sectors (forestry, fishing, horticulture, livestock). Such planning and policies must take full account of local conditions and traditional laws, including traditional environmental law (Tara Bandu). Great variations in regional, topographical and climatic conditions have combined to form diverse characteristics of crops, commodities and farmers (for example, in the south, the savannah and forests of the lowlands stretch from Suai east to Wato Carbau, the national bread basket, while in the north, the barren hills extend from Maubara east to Laga). Agricultural planning should be oriented towards promoting integrated, harmonious and socially equitable practices in accordance with local soil, climate and water availability, while still conserving natural resources, local environments and cultural patterns. It must include natural resource management that takes account of population distribution, composition and growth and related community needs in areas such as water supply, health and education.

Overall orientation of agricultural development: the empowerment of rural communities
Most essentially, agricultural development should be oriented towards the empowerment of rural communities. Agricultural development of this kind requires the investment of time needed to ensure meaningful participation of local communities. It also requires close coordination, cooperation and effective partnerships between government (through the Division of Agricultural Affairs), NGOs, donors, multilateral donor institutions, churches, and community groups, and at all levels – national, district and sub-district. It especially requires support for the formation and strengthening of community groups, such as village farmer groups, coffee growers groups and fishing village groups, and it calls for support for national NGOs that are linked into local communities.


See also:

Portuguese:

Set 14 2000 OTL: Agricultura, reabilitação e desenvolvimento  Report added May 17
"Apesar de todos os condicionamentos resultantes da destruição de Setembro de 1999, quando os indonésios se retiraram de Timor-Leste, a actividade agrícola, a que mais depende dos próprios timorenses, é a que dá os maiores sinais de recuperação: em seis meses, a produção de cereais voltou a 75% do nível anterior e a do café aos 100%. ... A diversificação é a melhor protecção contra a insegurança alimentar da população, mas não parece preocupar os intervenientes externos que apostam no café." Observatório Timor Leste

English:

Sep 14 2000 ETO: Agriculture, rehabilitation and development  Report added May 17
"In spite of all the setbacks caused by the destruction last September [1999], when the Indonesians withdrew from East Timor, agriculture is the activity that depends most on the Timorese themselves and is also the area that is now showing the clearest signs of recovery ... The people’s best protection against food insecurity lies in diversification," East Timor Observatory


East Timor National NGO Forum / Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e  Updated June 14
Umbrella agency for East Timorese Non-Government Organisations (NGOs)
VISION: To contribute to the building of a pluralist, democratic, just and sustainable East Timor through the development of a strong, independent and responsible civil society committed to upholding and making real in the daily life of the community, both village and urban, the full range of human rights so that all East Timorese, particularly the poor and disadvantaged, can enjoy the fruits of liberation and development in an East Timor forever free.
MISSION: To realise its vision by promoting a culture of learning, cooperation, partnership with the community and respect for human rights and good practice amongst East Timorese NGOs and between them and other development actors, both domestic and international, and by serving as a collective, independent voice for the rights and needs of the community.
VALUES AND PRINCIPLES: a rights approach to development; inclusiveness, participation; accountability; gender balance; respect for the environment; non-party political; non-sectarian; good governance; volunteerism.
Kaikoli Street, Dili-East Timor  Telephone +670(390)322772
E-mail: etngocentre@hotmail.com  Homepage: http://www.geocities.com/etngoforum/index.html
Jun 7 ETNGO Forum: Donors Meeting must be for Rural People: http://www.pcug.org.au/~wildwood/01junrural.htm
Jun 13 ETNGO Forum: The voice of Civil Society calls the Donors: http://www.pcug.org.au/~wildwood/01jundonors.htm


BD: East Timor National NGO Forum / Forum Nacional ONG Timor Lorosa'e - A collection of recent media releases, position-statements, speeches, petitions, reports, and news


BACK DOOR Newsletter on East Timor      home June news
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