During the two weeks of violence that followed the 30 August popular consultation in East Timor, more than 75 percent of the entire population was displaced. In addition, 70 percent of all private residences, public buildings and essential utilities were destroyed.
FAO-TCOR joined the UN Inter-Agency Emergency Response Team and carried out a preliminary assessment of the impact of the crisis on the agriculture, livestock and fisheries sectors and the most urgent needs for their recovery. The Assessment Mission found that up to 30 percent of farming families had lost all their assets including seed stocks and hand implements. Equipment for soil preparation and agro-processing units (e.g. rice mills) were stolen or destroyed and livestock killed. Agriculture stocks and inputs (e.g. fertilizer, pesticides and tools) were looted. Agriculture support services need to be completely re-established.
Based on the findings of the Assessment Mission, FAO/TCOR has formulated a plan of action for short-term recovery of the agriculture sector to assist the affected population and prepare for the return of approximately 130 000 displaced people in the next nine months.
The proposed interventions aim to restore food security and improve the nutritional status of rural and urban populations. FAO/TCOR has estimated these initial aid requirements to be a total of US$2.85 million. This covers activities such as home vegetable gardening, support to the main staple food crop production of maize, rice, cassava, sweet potato, rehabilitation of the fisheries sector, monitoring of crop and food supply prospects, coordination of emergency interventions in the agricultural sector and technical guidance to NGOs. The interventions also aim to facilitate the return and re-settlement of the displaced East Timorese currently in West Timor and to provide them with basic agriculture production kits. The proposed activities form the basis of FAO's contribution to the United Nations Consolidated Inter-Agency Appeal for East Timor.
FAO is well set to implement the proposed emergency activities. An FAO/TCOR Emergency Coordinator is currently in East Timor where the Organization is chairing the Sub-Committee on Agriculture and participates actively in all inter-agency assessments and coordination activities.
Even before the outbreak of violence, however, the region's economy and its agriculture sector were poorly developed and largely dependent on maize and rice production. Maize yields were around 1.8 tonnes per hectare compared with up to some 2.5 tonnes per hectare on adjacent islands. Paddy yields, on average 2.6 tonnes per hectare, were also lower than in other nearby rice-producing areas, where yields reach 4.5 tonnes per hectare.
Furthermore, most of the 1990s - with the exception of the 1995-96 season - have been marked by unfavourable weather conditions, which had already placed a heavy burden on the majority of smallholder farmers. The food situation in the region had been especially tight following a serious El Niño-related drought in 1998, which significantly reduced cereal production and farm stocks.