Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing

Agriculture, Forestry & Fishing

[Tetum: Agrikultura, Floresta & Peskas]

The immediate focus of ZEESM TL is on increasing the nutritional output of agriculture and fishing while developing a sustainable livestock and forest income that can be expanded into a commercial trade.

Agriculture is currently the primary income and work of the majority of women and men in Oé-Cusse. A report by the World Bank revealed that 78% of the population are involved in farming and 91% of the population own or lease land for farming. This is much higher than in the rest of Timor-Leste, where just 16% do.


The true experts in providing food to the population of Oé-Cusse are the farmers of Oé-Cusse. Hear their views in this video. Allowing them the ability to invest in themselves is vital if a sustainable food supply is to be made a permanent feature of the agricultural sector. In this there has been considerable success. Saving groups, which draw on the well-known community solidarity felt in Oé-Cusse villages, have started being a source of money for investment. An example is in Nibin, which not only has a communal saving fund of over US $45,000 but also, in common with most of the groups, provides food to schools. These funds raise income levels and circulate money in rural areas-half a million dollars is currently in circulation in rural areas due to these groups- allowing basic family income to increase in a predictable way.


Farming land is scare in Oé-Cusse. Only an estimated 18,200 hectares of Oé-Cusse is suitable for agriculture. This land is also divided into small bundles and farms are relatively isolated. Land is mostly held in small amounts by individual families and is held in complex and interlocking manner by their communities. Currently most farming is done for subsistence rather than commercial reason. The main farm products are fruit, vegetables, rice, cassava and corn. Work is done using basic methods and equipment such as slash and burn. Hard physical labor is the backbone of food supply in Oé-Cusse. Just one hectare of vegetable production –traditionally done by women- can require 364 days of labor, while improving one hectare of a rice paddy can require 244 days of labor.

In response to food insecurity ZEESM TL has begun improving irrigation, especially around the Tono river, which is the largest river that cuts through the centre of Oé-Cusse. Although Oé-Cusse is known for its abundant water, during dry season rainfall can be as low as just one millimeter so those farmers not close to irrigation or rivers can be limited by water access. With access to a reliable water supply in canals there will be increased food security. Water access also cuts down on labor needed each day as a farmer can spend up to 4 hours a day collecting water for household, livestock and horticultural needs.

An integrated agricultural management plan is in place which emphasizes growing several types of vegetables as well as fish and fruit in the same areas. New varieties and types of agricultural products that have high nutritional content have been promoted such as peanuts. Traditionally women were in charge of sourcing food when supplies are low and an improvement in this area will have other positive effects on increasing economic gender equality.

These measures have improved the nutritional output of the each cultivated acreage. The centre in Naimeco village, for example, won a United Nations Development Programme award for its work during a social business camp held in Dili in 2016.

The Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development, Regio da Cruz Salu, works through 23 horticultural centers that produce vegetables, increase diversity and build fish ponds. Organic methods are actively pursued. Local chemicals available in the markets are not suited to the environment in Oé-Cusse and damage the land, lowering its fertility. Cow dung and other freely available methods are more sustainable and cost effective. The food produced also has more nutrients, a vital output for a region with limited land.


While fish is culturally forbidden to a small portion of Oé-Cusse population, fish is still an under exploited resource that ZEESM TL seeks to expand. The amount and type of wild fish available depend on season. Where possible fish are integrated into household farms, in fresh water, purpose built, ponds.


ZEESM TL recognizes that before commercial forestry can begin the forested areas must be repaired. While some areas remain intact, when compared to historical accounts of Oé-Cusse, a lot has been lost. It is vital that this work is done in a manner that increases farmers’ abilities to provide for themselves and not done as a simple removal of income. For this reason, emphasis is now on improving agricultural methods from shifting slash and burn methods to methods that increase output per acreage. This can be done by increasing high nutritional content products. On the other hand, strong cultural beliefs in the necessity of setting aside land are used to build the foundations of reserves. Thousands of trees have been re-planted, and an area has been set aside for a future park. To read more about the park read our work in the environmental section.


Livestock in the region is mainly goats, sheep, chickens, cows, buffalo and pigs. Most livestock are not strictly commercial but are held as a form of saving account for the household and killed for personal consumption, sale in case of need, or for social and cultural celebrations. Before exports can be considered international standards must be met and to assist in getting to these standards vaccinations have been provided for livestock. This measure improves the livestock in the short term but also builds the foundations of a future export industry.

Department of Agriculture Structure

There are five different sections working under the Secretary of Agriculture: Fishery, Livestock, Forestry, Extension and Family Basic Agriculture. Extension is where experts are sent into the field to provide advice, while family basic agriculture workers provide help to community groups with basic improvements such as tractors to dig, seed selection etc.

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