Funding needed for fish farming in East Timor

A man sells fish by the road in Dili, Timor-Leste. Photo by: The WorldFish Center / CC BY-NC-ND

The future sustainable development of East Timor relies not only on building infrastructure and modernizing agriculture but also in harnessing a steady supply of fish without depleting its marine resources.

Aquaculture, or harvesting fisheries rather than commercial fishing, could well be the solution to the nation’s food insecurity, said WorldFish scientist Jharendu Pant.

This Malaysian nongovernmental organization is helping East Timor’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries hash out a strategic implementation plan for the sector that envisions developing aquaculture to combat chronic malnutrition in one of the poorest countries in Asia-Pacific.

“Fish supplies essential fats for brain development and cognition in the first 1000 days of a child’s life. It also provides anima protein and micronutrients like vitamin A, iron, zinc and calcium,” Pant told Devex.

Fish farms, he added, will also help to drive down the price of the product in the market and thus make it more accessible to the poor.

The plan, detailed in the National Aquaculture Development Strategy, has been financed by the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation through a FAO trust fund project and supported by several NGOs, among them WorldFish, and the USAID-funded Coral Triangle Support Partnership, led in East Timor by Conservation International with partners World Wildlife Fund and The Nature Conservancy.

But so far only the strategy has been developed and additional funding is needed for the necessary infrastructure to be built and experts to train traditional fishermen and other Timorese how to grow their own fish.

Although the participants have yet to come up with a figure to make an appeal to donors, Pant stressed that implementation “will require mobilization of both public and private sector investment” and public-private partnership schemes will of course be considered.

“We believe that donors and development partners will be interested in helping East Timor to combat poverty and malnutrition through aquaculture,” noted the scientist.

Inclusive growth

Despite living on an island, most Timorese do not consume much fish or seafood, just an average of 6.1 kilograms per capita or less than half the global average, according to data compiled by WorldFish.

The goal of the Timorese government is to raise the consumption to 15 kilograms per capita by 2020, and that ambitious target will contribute to inclusive growth, said Pant.

“Development of fish farmer institutions for production, marketing or service provisions among groups or clusters has scope to improve the viability of aquaculture among small holders,” he explained.

The scheme involves formal (cooperatives) or informal groups of farmers that can act collectively when buying inputs and services and selling their produce, thus reducing production costs for the farmers. On top of this, the project also hopes to empower women and other vulnerable groups who now are not in control of East Timor’s resources and effectively barred from the decision-making process.

Women would be trained along with traditional fishermen and be actively involved in both farming and selling the produce, giving them new and more sustainable livelihoods, especially for the wives of fishermen.

But all of this, Pant insisted, will be impossible without funds, and he hopes donors will be interested once the development strategy implementation plan is ready to be published in October.

“Aquaculture will increase the number of men, women and children in poor and vulnerable households deriving direct nutrition, food and income benefits from fish,” Timorese Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Mariano Sabino said in a statement.

Devex reported in March that building a stronger agricultural sector was among the priorities for the World Bank’s new four-year strategy for East Timor, a country still heavily dependent on oil revenues for its public finances. World Vision also recently included the former Portuguese colony in its drive to double the funding for projects in the Pacific islands.

About 70 percent of the Timorese population are subsistence farmers or fishermen.

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    Carlos Santamaria

    As associate editor for breaking news, Carlos Santamaria supervises Devex's Manila-based news team and the creation of our daily newsletter. Carlos joined Devex after a decade working for international wire services Reuters, AP, Xinhua, EFE and Philippine social news network Rappler in Madrid, Beijing, Manila, New York and Bangkok. During that time, he also covered natural disasters on the ground in Myanmar and Japan.