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Fighting hunger in a neglected nation

Timor-Leste, February 15, 2013

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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Timor-Leste (formerly East Timor) gained independence in 2002 after 30 years of Indonesian rule, which was preceded by 400 years of Portuguese rule. One of the least developed countries in the world, it faces many development challenges, including insufficient roads, limited access to electricity, and poorly functioning markets that contribute to high levels of food insecurity in Timor’s mountainous rural interior. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Currently, more than 80% of the population is estimated to rely on agriculture for both food and income. Around 70% of the population is living on less than $2 a day, and well over half of its 1.1 million people are chronically malnourished, particularly children under 5. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    One of the most important staples in Timor-Leste, maize, has traditionally yielded low returns. We are helping smallholder farmers increase harvests with improved seed like this sele maize variety. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    After a terrible year of heavy rains, farmer Francisco Tilman began growing the sele maize. "In 2011, we had a much better harvest. Now, some of us are getting 7-8 sacks more than we used to get, which is a good improvement." Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    A key element of the program is training the government's agriculture workers to provide technical outreach to farmers. They facilitate farmers' groups, teach improved techniques, like making homemade organic fertilizers, and facilitate access to new vegetable seeds to diversify crops. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Timor-Leste's mountainous terrain and tropical climate make it an ideal coffee-producing country. But farmers have lacked the knowledge and equipment to process the beans to receive higher prices in the nearby Australian market. Mercy Corps has connected them to pulping machines, drying facilities, and new buyers to increase their income. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Even if harvests improve, food can be lost before it is eaten due to inadequate storage methods. We're supporting producers of stainless steel silos, which protect grain from mold and pests. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    In order to address malnutrition, families need to increase their protein intake — but livestock is not a feasible option for many poor households with small plots of land and limited resources for animal feed. Farming tilapia is an affordable, easy to maintain option. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    We've supported the establishment of 103 tilapia ponds in ten villages, providing equipment and training to jumpstart sustainable aquaculture in Timor-Leste. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    With access to a larger variety of foods, families have the opportunity to improve their diets — especially crucial for children under five years old, who often eat little more than rice porridge. Mercy Corps developed a recipe book to educate our farmer households on nutrition and how to utilize their newly diverse crops. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    To further ignite interest in these new, healthy dishes, we're hosting community events that include live music and cooking demonstrations, including showing mothers how each recipe can be turned into nutritious baby food. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    In addition to improving nutrition, diverse farms are ultimately more able to cope with climate stress. New crops make better use of the surrounding environment to control pests and balance soil fertility, and the variety protects farmers from losing everything if one crop fails. Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps
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  <span class="field-credit">
    Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps  </span>
    Farmer Francisco Tilman and his wife Maria das Doras use their farm as a demonstration plot for their local farmers' group. Its diversity is impressive: They grow cassava, cabbage, bananas, papaya, coffee and betel nut, as well as raising pigs, chickens and fish. "If many people grow different crops like we do, then the community will be able to buy a wider variety," Francisco says. "Then people will have better diets and good health and more harmony in their lives." Photo: Matt Styslinger/Mercy Corps

Timor-Leste is one of the world’s newest countries, where over one-third of the population regularly experiences food shortages. Widespread malnutrition and food insecurity prevent the country from growing and leave families living in vulnerable conditions.

Mercy Corps is working with 4,500 subsistence farmers to improve their production, increase their income, and diversify their diets, creating the foundation for sustainable development in a nation eager for change.