Local food producers from Oecusse.

Local food producers from Oecusse take part in an innovation food exchange session with Oxfam in Timor-Leste and Agora Food Studio through the IMPACT (Improving Marketing and Production through Agricultural Cooperatives in Timor-Leste) program.

Timor-Leste’s Food Revolution: From Remote Oecusse to Capital Dili

Timor-Leste has a rich culinary history which has had a strong influence from Portugal and Indonesia. However, after 20 years of independence, Timor-Leste is reclaiming its history and its identity through food innovation and creativity – creating its own food revolution, creating opportunities to local market access and nurturing economic growth.

Timor-Leste remains one of the poorest nations in the South East Asian region. One of the largest issues is food security, with 70% of the population dependent on subsistence agriculture, while half the population live under the national poverty line. The dominance of importing and consuming low-quality processed foods in Timor-Leste from neighbouring countries, such as Indonesia, has also shown that food nutrition remains a key part to this challenge. In fact, 36% of Timor-Leste’s population is chronically food insecure and with erratic climate conditions, the hunger season can sometimes range from two to six months at a time.

Oxfam in Timor-Leste’s IMPACT (Improving Marketing and Production through Agricultural Cooperatives in Timor-Leste) program, funded by the New Zealand Government’s Aid Program, aims to build economic self-reliance and resilience in rural communities in Timor-Leste. The program supports local farmers to increase productivity and access their local markets.

In May 2019, in the IMPACT program, Oxfam in Timor-Leste collaborated with local social enterprise, Agora Food Studio, to create opportunities for food producers to think differently about how to access local market with local foods. This is especially important for rural and remote communities that need to work creatively to build their own local markets.

The collaboration brought a dozen farmers, and food producers from the remote communities in the Western exclave of Oecusse to the capital Dili. This provided an opportunity to share inspiration about Timor-Leste’s agro-biodiversity and create innovative food products that could be made and sold in Oecusse. These delicious food products can bring a shift towards demand for traditional Timorese staple foods, and away from low-quality processed food imports.

“Sweet potato is a staple food grown in Oecusse and in collaboration with Agora Food Studio, our Oecusse group was introduced to the method of creating sweet potato flatbread. Weeks later, we visited them in Oecusse. The local community showed us that they used the same method with pumpkin - another staple food grown in Oecusse - to create pumpkin flatbread. The result was delicious, and an evident sense of pride in seeing traditional staple foods into a new innovation, while creating a new market opportunity for local foods such as sweet potato and pumpkin.”
– Kathy Richards, Country Director, Oxfam in Timor-Leste

Through IMPACT, Oxfam in Timor-Leste and Agora Food Studio are now supporting Oecusse farmers to sell more of their produce in a pilot with the local school feeding program in Oecusse. This next phase of the partnership with Agora Food Studio will continue in the second half of 2019.