In the half-island nation of Timor-Leste, around 75 percent of the country’s 1.2 million people live in rural areas where livelihoods depend on the farming of crops and livestock, largely of a subsistence or semi-subsistence nature.
With 41 percent of the population living below the national poverty line and over half of all children under five stunted, combatting poverty and malnutrition has been the top priority of the Government of Timor-Leste since the country gained independence in 2002. Development of a sustainable fisheries and aquaculture sector has been identified by the government as a means of improving food and nutrition security and diversifying livelihoods.
Currently, only a small proportion of the population in Timor-Leste is engaged in fisheries and aquaculture. The 2015 census reports that 10,000 households (5 percent of total households) are involved in small-scale fisheries to some degree. The number of households involved in aquaculture was estimated at around 3500 (1.75 percent of total households) in 2016.
Between 2009 and 2015, annual fish production from capture fisheries was estimated to be 3200 metric tons, which is almost exclusively consumed domestically. Freshwater aquaculture produced only 45.6 metric tons in 2008, which has increased to >350 metric tons in 2016 due to aquaculture development initiatives by WorldFish and partners in recent years. In 2014, around 15 metric tons of seaweed were produced for export, with a much greater volume produced for the local market.
Today, fish accounts for 31 percent of animal-source protein intake in the Timorese diet. Average fish consumption is estimated to be 6.1 kg/person/year (17 kg in coastal areas and 4 kg in inland communities), which is much less than current global average of 19.7 kg. By 2030, it is hoped that efforts to boost fish supply and production by the government and partners will raise consumption to 15 kg per capita, with aquaculture production supplying 40 percent of locally-consumed fish.