Farmers in Timor Leste call the months from November to February “the hungry season”. By November, farming families in Timor Leste tend to have eaten or sold all their produce. They’ve planted new crops with the rains, but they must wait until the next harvest is ready in March or April. And this year could be even worse than usual thanks to poor harvests related to the weather phenomena El Niño and La Niña. El Niño hit the country in 2015 and 2016, bringing drought that killed crops. That weather phenomenon is often followed by La Niña, which can bring heavy rains and landslides, prevent planting and wash away crops before they have a chance to grow. There is a 40 percent chance that La Niña will hit Timor Leste next month.
“Our cassava and corn did not grow well, the plants died from the top and the papaya leaves fell off,” said Herman Pereira, who is the chief of Manahat, a village of about 70 households on the western frontier with Indonesia.
Many of the country’s 1.2 million people are already chronically hungry. Food security is a constant issue for many Timorese. Timor Leste was ranked the second hungriest country in Asia by the International Food Policy Research Institute, which released its annual Global Hunger Index Tuesday. It was the ninth on the list globally, on par with war-torn Yemen and Afghanistan. About half of the country's children under five have stunted growth, according to the Global Hunger Index. In any other country, Timor’s anemia rates alone would suggest blanket supplementary feeding for women and children.
70 percent of Timor Leste's citizens are subsistence farmers. Of those surveyed, 72 percent were experiencing a long dry season, 56 percent had delayed plating crops, 80 percent did not have water for their gardens, and 55 percent of families had reduced the number of meals they eat each day.