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Concern marks World Food Day in Timor Leste

Concern Timor Leste marked World Food Day in Dili, Timor's capital, on Tuesday, 16 October, with a public event showcasing local food production and sustainable farming techniques.

Timor Leste is one of 150 countries that observed World Food Day, an event launched by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1945 highlighting access to food as a basic human right. The theme this year was “The Right to Food,” meaning everyone, under international law, has the right to sufficient nutritionally adequate and culturally acceptable food, regularly, for a healthy life. “It is the right to feed oneself in dignity, rather than the right to be fed,” said Chana Opaskornkvl, FAO chief of office in Dili, at Tuesday’s celebration. It’s unacceptable that the world produces enough food to feed everyone but some 850 million people go to bed hungry every night, a portion of them in Timor Leste, he said.

Concern’s Timor Leste worked with partner organisations setting up two food booths in Dili’s Mercado Lama, a major marketplace, along with numerous government and international agencies. The booths featured local foods including beans, cassava, potatoes, corn and other products. After delivering a speech at the market, Timor Leste’s President Jose Ramos-Horta visited the Concern booths examining the local products and spoke with members of Concern’s partner organisations. Ramos-Horta said one of the keys to increasing food production in Timor Leste is the construction of new and better roads.

Better roads needed

“If we’re serious about resolving the problem of food security in this country, we must address the infrastructure problems. There’s no way around it,” Ramos-Horta said. The president has recommended the government invests in road projects and other transportation infrastructure for farmers to access markets. Ramos-Horta also emphasised environmental stewardship as vital for moving Timor Leste from subsistence agriculture to market-oriented production. Policies to preserve Timor’s fisheries, land and forestry resources are urgently needed for sustainable use of the country’s natural resources, according to Ramos-Horta. Reforestation programs are particularly important not only because of forest degradation but they can also generate thousands of jobs, he said.

World Food Day seminars and workshops

Elsewhere in Timor, Concern’s partner agency, Hametin Sustainabilidade Agrikultura Timor Lorosaemeans, or Sustainable Agriculture Network (HASATIL), is marking World Food Day with three days of activities, including seminars and workshops focusing on food as a human rights issue. HASATIL is a non-governmental organisation comprised of member groups promoting sustainable farming practices.

Displaying goods and skills

Farmers from various parts of the island brought local food crops to Dili on 15 October showcasing their products and crops, and discussed their nutritional value. Alongside the farmers, weavers, sewers and bead-workers displayed their handicrafts at HASATIL’s outdoor garden. Speeches and discussions were led by Timorese economists, agriculture officials, members of parliament and academics. They focused on how Timor could increase its product and supply of food through sustainable agriculture and government policies prioritising community autonomy, environmental stewardship and cultural integrity.

“Food sovereignty is the way to reduce poverty in East Timor,” said Mateus Tilman, a HASATIL board member. “It must start with ourselves. It’s not just the responsibility of the government.”