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Diversifying livelihoods through aquaculture in Timor Leste

Aquaculture development strategy and action plan for Timor Leste
Project leader
Jharendu Pant
15 Feb 2011
6 Mar 2012
Rural livelihoods in Timor Leste are essentially subsistence or semi-subsistence, and largely depend on crop farming and raising livestock. A carbohydrate-based diet (maize, rice, cassava, taro, sweet potato and vegetables) provides the major source of calories; meat or fish (animal protein) is only eaten on special occasions as these are expensive food items and fish is not readily available in rural areas far from the coast. Nearly half of the population lives in extreme poverty and food insecurity. The proportion of underweight children under the age of five has been estimated at 45% by the World Food Program in 2010.
Due to the provision of essential vitamins and micronutrients, there is an increasing appreciation of the role of fish in a nutritionally balanced diet. The country, with over 700 km of coastline, offers tremendous potential for coastal fisheries and mariculture. Development of these resources could largely meet the demand for fish in coastal communities. For the large rural inland population who lack access to this supply, some inland areas are endowed with freshwater resources offering the potential for local freshwater fish production. The addition of small ponds to rural household farming systems provides the opportunity for income and nutrition and may also improve resilience against seasonal droughts.
The purpose of this project was to design an aquaculture development strategy for Timor Leste as a means towards the diversification and improvement of rural people’s livelihoods. It had three components: an analysis of the current situation and the potential for future aquaculture development, the preparation of a strategy document, and a follow up implementation plan for aquaculture in the country.
For aquaculture to be a viable and sustainable option for improved livelihoods, several major issues were taken into account.   These included, but were not limited to, the development of seed and feed systems, linkages to markets, choosing appropriate production technologies to suit the environmental conditions, strengthening institutions and establishing aquaculture farmer groups. It was also important that the development strategy and implementation plan were created with the participation and support of all the local stakeholders.
Project activities involved a review of the current situation and the potential for future aquaculture development focusing on inland aquaculture (freshwater), brackishwater ponds, and mariculture (especially seaweed farming). The most appropriate agro-ecological niches for aquaculture development were identified using Geographical Information Systems and Recommendation Domain tools. The activities also included an analysis of the necessary improvements for the input supply chain (seed and feed), different production systems and management, possible aquaculture extension strategies, the role of finance, access to markets and the eventual impacts on farm incomes and nutrition.
Assistance was provided to build capacity within the Department of Aquaculture and other relevant institutions. This led to recommendations on the policies, regulations and institutional development required for responsible development of aquaculture. An implementation plan was prepared that included two pilot investment projects, one in an inland area and the second in a coastal area, for follow up action. A stakeholder meeting/workshop was held in Dili in 2012 to present the findings of the study and the draft aquaculture strategy.
By assisting the Department of Aquaculture of the National Fisheries Development Agency to design an appropriate aquaculture development strategy and action plan for Timor Leste, the WorldFish Center has contributed towards the diversification and improvement of livelihoods as well as to the nutritional and economic security of the rural population.