World Food Day gives us all, a chance to think about something that is important to all of us – the food we eat. In Timor-Leste, despite progress since we restored independence, there is still a problem because too many people don’t have enough to eat; malnutrition and hunger remain issues of concern.
The 2017 Global Hunger Index still rates hunger levels in Timor-Leste as ‘serious’. Malnutrition levels remain worryingly high with 1 in every 2 children under 5 years old too short in height for age because they don’t have enough to eat, and sometimes what they eat isn’t nutritious enough for a growing brain and body.
It is estimated that undernutrition costs the country US$ 41 million a year in lost productivity, poor work performance and increased health costs, representing 1-2 percent of the country’s GDP.
World Food Day is commemorated across the globe every 16th of October in honor of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations in 1945. This year’s World Food Day theme is “Our actions are our future. A Zero Hunger world by 2030 is possible”. Zero hunger means working together to ensure everyone, everywhere, has year-round access to the safe, healthy and nutritious food they need for a healthy and productive life.
Globally, hunger is on the rise. In 2017, it reached 821 million people, roughly one in nine of the global population, according to the 2018 The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report. Additionally, 200 million children continue to suffer from stunting and wasting, and roughly 60% of the world’s hungry are women. The last two years have seen a worrying reversal of positive trends in reducing hunger seen earlier in the new millennium. This reversal in progress sends a clear warning that more must be done, and urgently, if the Sustainable Development Goal 2 of Zero Hunger is to be achieved by 2030.
Hunger and malnutrition remain a barrier to sustainable development - less productive individuals are more prone to disease, negatively impacting earnings and their ability to improve their livelihoods. Children, adolescent girls and vulnerable women are often the most affected. Many SDGs, such as quality education and good health for all, cannot be achieved without first eliminating hunger.
Ensuring food security and combating malnutrition has been a national priority for the Government of Timor-Leste for over a decade, with many ingredients for success already in place, with robust policy and strategic frameworks and mechanisms such as the cross-sectoral Zero Hunger Action Plan for a Hunger and Malnutrition Free Timor-Leste (PAN-HAM-TIL) and the National Council for Food Security, Sovereignty and Nutrition in Timor-Leste (KONSSANTIL).
If we are to achieve a world without hunger and malnutrition in all its forms by 2030, it is imperative that we accelerate and scale-up actions to strengthen the resilience and adaptive capacity of food systems and people’s livelihoods in response to climate variability and extremes, experienced in Timor-Leste in recent El Niño and La Niña phenoniums.
The changing nature of climate variability and extremes is negatively affecting all dimensions of food security (food availability, access, utilization and stability), as well as exacerbating other underlying causes of malnutrition related to child care and feeding, health services and environmental health. The risk of food insecurity and malnutrition is greater nowadays because livelihoods and livelihood assets – especially of the poor – are more exposed to shocks and are increasingly vulnerable to changing climate variability and extremes.
Preventing malnutrition has inter-generational human, social, and economic benefits for individuals, their households, their communities and the nation. All Timorese girls and boys, regardless of their ethnicity or location, have the same potential to grow and contribute to national development, if provided a healthy environment, including appropriate nutrition and sanitation. The first 1,000 days of life (from pre-conception to two years of age), known as the “critical window of opportunity” is where optimum nutrition can have the greatest impact. Good nutrition during this period has lifelong impacts on health, education and productivity. After two years of age, the impact of poor nutrition during this period is largely irreversible.
Therefore, agriculture and nutrition programmes delivered alone can only go so far - a stronger cross-sectorial coordination and substantially higher investment is needed to convert this momentum into concrete results on the ground. We must foster wider and deeper partnerships, making full use of all global policy platforms, and commit to substantial investment to disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation to shore up livelihoods and boost resilience.
Governments must create opportunities for greater public and private sector investments in agriculture, while boosting social protection programmes for the vulnerable and linking food producers with market opportunities. Smallholder farmers need to adopt new, sustainable agricultural methods to increase productivity and income. Strengthening the resilience of rural and urban communities requires an approach that is mindful of the environment and leverages the power of technological innovation and creates stable and rewarding employment opportunities.
Strong leadership in multi-sector planning and programming to address the immediate and underlying causes of malnutrition, including food security, sustainable agriculture, clean water and sanitation, family planning and caring practices, is essential. The United Nations stands ready to support the Government of Timor-Leste in promoting positive population behavior change and better service delivery, in creating an enabling environment to allow existing systems and organizations to improve food security and nutrition, and in supporting coordination and policy dialogue for better nutrition outcomes.
The UN system in Timor-Leste, through FAO, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), World Health Organization (WHO) and World Food Programme (WFP), are working tirelessly along the Government and the vulnerable communities of Timor-Leste to support the national SDG roadmap through ensuring robust food systems and food security and nutrition for all, with a view to achieving SDG 2 of Zero Hunger by 2030.
Mr. Dageng Liu
Acting UN Resident Coordinator
 WHO, 2006