04 April 2009

UNMIT Statement for the Timor-Leste Development Partners' Meeting 2009 on National Priority 1: Food Security

Food insecurity and malnutrition continue to be major concerns in Timor-Leste, with about half of all children under-five being under weight. Poor nutrition in the early years of childhood has an irreversible negative impact on a person’s physical and mental development and thus on his or her quality of life. It also results in poorer quality human resources for the country in the future.

Continued investments in food and nutrition security are therefore crucial for national and human development. This requires a strategy that involves all three elements of food security to yield optimal results: (i) availability through production and imports, (ii) accessibility in terms of purchasing power, and (iii) utilization, including nutrition interventions, especially for pregnant and lactating women, and young children.

The Government has undertaken a number of activities in these three areas by stimulating agricultural production, subsidizing imported rice, and by supporting the most vulnerable groups through food, cash, micro-nutrients, and the dissemination of nutrition information.

The fact that Food Security is NP 1 for 2009 reflects the Government’s strong continued commitment to food security. The majority of people depend on the agricultural sector for their livelihoods, including livestock, fisheries, forestry and crops, which essentially remains at subsistence level. Investing in agriculture is therefore essential to attain national food security. But working through the mechanism of NP1 offers also a great opportunity to promote the production of a wider variety of crops; improve people’s access to food; reformulate and strengthen the National Food Security Policy and Strategy; strengthen coordination amongst all actors involved with any one aspect of food security; improve food security monitoring and information systems; and to strengthen the functioning of the National and District Food Security Committees.

However, targets currently included under NP 1 concentrate on increased production of rice. Whereas needed in itself, this is not sufficient to accelerate the pace of attaining food security, and the above mentioned actions should receive equal attention to move toward reaching the Millennium Development Goals.

The right to food is a human right, not a privilege and the UN system, in cooperation with our donor partners and NGOs, will continue to support the Government achieve food security in all its aspects, with special emphasis on the most vulnerable groups.

This Development Partners Meeting is held at a time when the global economic situation causes major challenges for governments around the world in ensuring access of their populations to essential goods and services. Also Timor-Leste is not immune to the impact of the financial crisis

However, investments in this essential sector from Timor-Leste’s own means and from external sources should not suffer from these difficult circumstances. Budgets may be under a temporary pressure, but we should not risk the future human capital of the country by reducing our collective efforts.

Image added by ETLJB: Timorese child with food aid.

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