World Food Day report highlights regional crisis

Food insecurity in the East Asia and Pacific Region is fast becoming a chronic problem, with a report released today showing that people in parts of East Timor are now facing up to five months a year without enough food to eat, according to international aid agency Oxfam.

Speaking on World Food Day, Oxfam Australia Executive Director Andrew Hewett said much of the region was being hit hard by the food crisis in both urban and rural areas due to increasingly erratic weather, increased biofuels production and growing consumer demand in China, India and advanced Southern countries.

"The World Bank estimates that the food price crisis will plunge an additional 100 million people into poverty, and has wiped out the last seven years of reductions in poverty," Mr Hewett said.

Mr Hewett said a survey prepared last year and released in Australia today by Oxfam, the Christian Children's Fund, Concern Worldwide, CARE International Timor-Leste and supported by the European Commission Food Security Program, showed increasing food shortages in East Timor.

Key findings of the survey, which was conducted in the districts of Manatuto, Liquica, Manufahi, Bobonaro, Oecusse, Covalima and Lautem, included:

1. Diets lack protein and throughout the survey area the number of children under 5 suffering from chronic malnutrition ranged from 50 per cent to 59 per cent.

2. More than 70 per cent of households surveyed were "food insecure" - that is, not confident they would find enough to eat each day; in some areas as high as 90 per cent.

3. An urgent need to invest in small scale farmers to support variety and quantity of crops.

Mr Hewett said East Timor was just one of the countries being hit hard by the global food crisis throughout the region.

"In Cambodia, rice farmers are struggling to feed their family with a recent survey showing 2.6 million people are facing food insecurity, while in the Solomon Islands our staff there are finding anecdotally that children are getting just one small meal a day for dinner and other than that are surviving on green coconuts," Mr Hewett said.

"Oxfam is responding to food shortages in countries like Indonesia by working with communities to try different and more sustainable agricultural practices."

Mr Hewett said the Australian Government had begun to recognise the problem, contributing $30 million to the World Food Program, $50 million to the World Bank and making a number of commitments in countries like Indonesia and Ethiopia to address the immediate severity of the crisis, but he called on the government to show leadership in seeking long term solutions.

"The government needs to scale up immediate assistance in the region and on the micro level fund programs that work closely with small communities to develop sustainable agricultural plans," Mr Hewett said.

"More broadly the Rudd Government can lead a renewed push on global trade talks to end US, European and Japanese subsidies on their own domestic agricultural products at the expense of developing country farmers."

For more information or to interview Andrew Hewett, please contact: Kate Thwaites, International Programs and Emergencies Media Coordinator on 0407 515 559

Timor-Leste food security baseline survey report