Subject: SMH: A new start: planting the seeds of survival

Sydney Morning Herald Thursday, March 16, 2000

A new start: planting the seeds of survival

Dili Despite extensive destruction of food stocks and seed supplies following last year's post-referendum violence, East Timor could be self-sufficient in food in two years, the World Food Program (WFP) says.

Since the humanitarian emergency began last September, the WFP says it has distributed 19,000 tonnes of food.

"It's been a huge operation and we're proud of it," Mr Arnt Breivik, the agency's senior emergency co-ordinator in Dili, said.

The success of the food distribution has averted a potential mass influx of rural dwellers into urban centres, Mr Breivik said. More than 12,000 tonnes were distributed by road, 4,000 tonnes by barge and 2,000 tonnes by helicopter.

Mr Breivik said seed distribution to help farmers and rural families become self-sufficient had been "very successful", especially with maize production.

The WFP was continuing to help families who had returned home too late to plant or whose seed stocks had been destroyed or damaged during the militia violence that followed the August30 independence ballot.

"There are pockets which we have to supply where people are late coming home. But, the situation now is much better than it was in January," he said.

The WFP projected maize production in East Timor this year at 90,000 tonnes, or 70per cent of its potential, plus 36,000 tonnes of milled rice - about 80per cent of capacity.

Viqueque district, with 64,000 people, was likely to achieve a surplus in rice and maize. However, in Covalima, in the south-west, only one-third of the original population of 60,000 have returned, and a serious maize deficit is expected.

Maize is East Timor's main cereal, but rice is also an important food and cash crop, grown from November to March.

Mark Dodd

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