Subject: Boost for food security
Boost for food security

DILI, 16 October 2008 (IRIN) - The UN World Food Programme (WFP) is helping the government of Timor-Leste to boost food security by giving two warehouses a facelift and building a third, to be operational by December.

For years President Jose Ramos-Horta has pledged to make Timor food secure, but every year the government finds itself struggling to transport food to villages cut off by floodwaters or landslides.

These warehouses should allow the government to provide food to the neediest first. Though one of the refurbished warehouses is in Dili, the capital, another is in Lautem in the east and one will be built in Same, in the south. These district capitals and their satellite communities are often hardest hit by food shortages and these three warehouses could provide food for more than 100,000 people ­ about a tenth of the population.

"If you look at it strategically, you should not focus all your warehouse space in one area," said Maarten van Driel, the WFP logistics officer in charge of the project. "Especially now as the wet season is coming."

Following a countrywide survey, the Ministry of Social Solidarity determined that these two districts were at highest risk from food emergencies. Timor-Leste has 13 districts and, besides warehouses in Dili, had only two food warehouses elsewhere before the WFP project. One of the warehouses is in Oecusse, an enclave separated by Indonesia from the rest of the country and the other is in Maliana, a western district capital. But Lautem and Same are also in two of the poorest districts in the country, and a warehouse could provide big benefits.

Van Driel said the government had stored 22 metric tonnes of contingency rice in each existing warehouse.

Displaced people wait as food is distributed by WFP at the Don Bosco camp in Dili. WFP filled the Dili warehouse with 800-1,200 metric tonnes of rice, which goes to school-feeding programmes and other such projects.

"There's an opportunity to give people food near their place of residence when it's urgently needed," said Jacinto Gomes de Jesus, the secretary of state for social assistance for natural disasters in the Ministry of Social Solidarity. "Another advantage is we can buy local produce when it's available."

De Jesus said he would be happy to stock the warehouses with whatever locally produced goods he could find, including beans and corn, though his first priority was rice.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, farming is the only source of income for 80 percent of all households in Timor but so far - due in part to underdeveloped markets - whatever cash a farmer received was marginal. De Jesus said Timor-Leste had some way to go before it could feed itself.

"Right now there's just not enough Timorese product to buy," he said. At present, WFP filled the Dili warehouse with 800-1,200 metric tonnes of rice, which goes to school-feeding programmes and other such projects.

Toxic storage

Before the warehouses were restored, food in these districts had been kept in decrepit buildings, sometimes next to toxic substances.

"Dedicated food storage facilities are necessary to keep stock separate," said Van Driel. "You don't want to store fuel next to food items."

De Jesus said he planned to take the project further next year and establish three more warehouses in other districts.

"But that's all in the planning stages right now," he said. "The budget still has to be approved first."



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