February 19, 2021 // National

Combatting malnutrition in Timor Leste

The family of Sandra Salleta da Costas Magno, 7, are famers who grow seasonal crops based on the rainy and dry season. In the dry season they plant carrot, tomato, eggplant and cauliflower and in the wet season they grow beans, maize, peanuts and watermelon. They started growing these varieties of vegetables after the participation in the Catholic Relief Services nutrition program. The mother has also learned cooking techniques and how to prepare meals for her family. They buy taro and sweet potato at the market, along with meat, if they can afford it — usually about twice a month. They raise chickens at the house so they can eat eggs every day. “I know vegetables give vitamins to my children,” said Sandra’s mother. They now go straight to the clinic if one of the children is sick.

Sandra Salleta da Costa Magno, 7, pictured in Libagua village, Timor Leste. Her mother, Eliza da Costa Martins has been part of the CRS TOMAK nutrition project for 2.5 years.

Timor-Leste, located between Indonesia and Australia, has the highest rate of child malnutrition in Asia, with almost half of children under 5 experiencing stunted growth. Research shows that rates of exclusive breastfeeding vary widely across the country, between 28% and 75%, and there is a lack of dietary diversity, with only 13% of children under two years consuming a minimum acceptable diet. On a national level, widespread poor growth is attributed to limited availability of nutritional foods and high child illness burden. 

Previous research conducted in two upland and lowland populations in rural Timor-Leste indicates growth faltering in early development. In Timor-Leste, subsistence agriculture is the main livelihood strategy for the majority of the rural population. Subsistence in Timor-Leste is predominantly plant-based, with staple crops including rice, cassava, maize and beans. The country is food insecure, thus household nutritional security is difficult to achieve.

Information provided by Catholic Relief Services.

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