When hunger lasts for months
In Timor-Leste people have traditionally divided their year into three season – wet season, dry season and hungry season. Unlike our four seasons, the hungry season doesn’t start and end on a specific day, and it has been stretching longer and longer.
In Timor-Leste the hungry season used to run from around November to February. It was the season after the crops of maize from the previous season had run out and before the next crop of maize could be harvested. People accepted that they would have less to eat during this season.
Many people survived by eating a dish called Akar, made from the trunk of a sago palm tree, ground up, mixed with water and then cooked over a fire. However in recent years the hungry season has extended longer and now it can sometimes be 4-6 months between the maize crops running out and the next harvest being available.
This is particularly severe in a country where up to 90% of the population relies on subsistence farming and fishing and one in two people do not have reliable access to food. Crops produce low yields because of farming methods and a lack of resources that mean problems such as weevils, mould and rodents can’t be addressed. Some years crops have failed entirely due to poor weather or natural disasters. Climate change is having a serious impact on harvests and food security. Since independence some attempts are being made to introduce more high yielding maize varieties and improve the genetic base of maize used, however the use of these modern varieties remains very low.
Timor-Leste remains one of the poorest countries in the world. It ranks 122 out of 169 countries in the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) 2010 Human Development Index. The World Bank’s 2008 Timor-Leste poverty survey showed that the population living below the poverty line grew from 39% in 2001 to 50% in 2007.