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Agriculture is the key to Timor-Leste’s sustained future. It provides sustenance to an estimated 80% of the population, and the ability to grow and export food (particularly coffee) constitutes 90% of the country’s exports[i]. As such, a severe problem with the crops or food supply creates a single point of failure. Timor-Leste is utterly dependent on this revenue and food supply. With such extreme statistics, equally cataclysmic variables- such as climate change and severe weather- pose a substantial threat. Currently, over 55% of Timor-Leste villages are threatened by climate change. [ii]
What is the basic Agricultural practice in Timor-Leste?
Even without climate change, the extreme weather of Timor-Leste always has limited farmers ability to cultivate the land. There is a monsoon climate, meaning unpredictable and intense weather, [iii]rendering farming seasons complex and nearly unpredictable. Farmers practice sustenance farming as opposed to large-scale farms, except for rare missionary aided plants. Sustenance farming involves growing and harvesting the food necessary for what each individual needs, such as personal farms and livestock. Crop systems are hugely dependent on reliable climate, topography, and rainfall pattern- this is why a steady and predictable environment is vital to stabilising Timor-Leste’s food access. Climate change directly threatens this balance.
How does Climate Change impact Timor-Leste?
Climate change damages the cropping system of Timor-Leste in 5 primary points of concern.
1. Erratic weather fluctuations
Unmanageable rainfall and strong winds make growing crops incredibly difficult. These extreme weathers are made more catastrophic by climate change, which worsens the damage caused by increasing weather force. A single bad harvest for a self-sustained farmer can eliminate months of food supplies.
2. Flooding coastal regions
Rising water levels pose a massive threat for Timor-Leste due to the country’s large coastal areas, particularly the capital, Dili. Dili sits only a couple of meters away from sea level. It is a vital trade point for resources, supplies and the maintenance of exports routes.
3. The shrinking of rivers
Where rivers dry up due to rising temperatures, water access is diminished with at least a twofold effect. The land is made barren, and ecosystems fail, with the soil becoming infertile and inhospitable. Secondly, it becomes much more challenging to sustain water irrigation. This results in further crop failures. For farmers who also rely on scavenging for food sources, the destruction of natural ecosystems limits the amount of food available.
4. Landslides and topographic instability
As well as being a safety risk and destroying landscapes and fields, landslides caused by shifting climates and extreme weather have damaged water management equipment installed by WaterAid. Without these essential services, the people of Timor-Leste become even more vulnerable to the inhospitable weather. Timor-Leste continues to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic.[iv] With less than 30% of the population having access to soap and handwashing facilities[v], the dry seasons are even more dangerous than ever.
5. Worsening Dry Seasons
Prolonged dry weather leaves crops underwatered and vulnerable to failure. Rainwater cannot be collected for drinking either, leading to water scarcity. This leaves people unable to hydrate themselves or wash, making an already vulnerable community further compromised. Resorting to contaminated water supplies increases the risk of contracting deadly diseases such as cholera.
Things you can do to help with the Climate Crisis’ effects on Timor-Leste
• Increasing awareness. Using social media and word of mouth, you can do a lot to increase awareness by getting well-researched information out to new social groups. This will help to make people be more mindful about things such as water waste.
• Be aware of your impact on the climate and what companies you support. Take a look at your buying habits and research the companies that you most frequently buy through. If you find that they have a production ethos that damages the planet, consider changing to other products wherever possible.
As a newly independent country, the people of Timor-Leste have displayed extremely admirable bravery and resilience in the face of tremendous adversities and disasters. Although the impact of climate change can seem terrifyingly extreme, there is absolute hope for success with help and support. Read through HART’s blog for further information about the situation in Timor-Leste.
By Amber Hogan who won 1st place in this year’s Senior Creative category of the HART Prize.
[i] ‘Country profile- Timor-Leste’ Food and Agriculture organisation of the United Nations’ http://www.fao.org/3/ca0411en/CA0411EN.pdf
[ii] ‘What Climate change means for Timor-Leste’ WaterAid, https://www.wateraid.org/au/articles/what-climate-change-means-for-timor-leste
[iii] ‘Monsoons’ MetOffice, https://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/learn-about/weather/types-of-weather/wind/monsoons
[iv] ‘Timor-Leste Situation’ World Health organisation, https://covid19.who.int/region/searo/country/tl
[v] ‘Many Homes lack basic handwashing facilities’ The World Bank, https://datatopics.worldbank.org/world-development-indicators/stories/many-homes-lack-basic-handwashing-facilities.html
Although all blog posts are reviewed by an editorial team, our blog authors all write in a personal capacity and the views expressed are not necessarily those of HART.