A small country with a big climate change plan

Aileu farmers Daniel Soares and Francisco Fernandes show how poor their soil is due to a scarcity of water.
Aileu farmers Daniel Soares and Francisco Fernandes show how poor their soil is due to a scarcity of water. Photo Sandra Magno/UNDP TL

Aileu – The concept of climate change is well and truly understood in the small villages of Aileu district in Timor-Leste. (Lee versaun Tetum iha ne'e)

Over the last few years, local communities here have experienced erratic rainfall patterns and extended dry seasons. Water has not been as readily available, hindering the production of vital crops such as corn, fruits and rice.

In the village of Namolesso, only cassava and sweet potato are now grown consistently.These staples make up the bulk of the local diet.


  • Around 80 per cent of Timor-Leste’s people rely on agriculture as their main livelihood.
  • Timor-Leste has ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
  • Timor-Leste finalized the National Adaptation Programme of Action for Climate Change (NAPA) in 2010, with UNDP support.

Speaking in 2010, village chief, Francisco Fernandes said urgent steps need to be taken to address this food shortage.

“Since corn doesn’t grow anymore, we are only eating cassava and sweet potato. Rice is only for the ones who have money,” he said.

Another chief from an adjoining village, Daniel Soares, added: “Before, when our grandparents were planting corn they used to have good harvests, but now, even after we increased the size of our plantations and extended the harvest period, we are not able to produce corn anymore. We simply don’t have enough water for irrigation to grow crops well”

As a small island nation, potential changes in sea levels or ocean acidity levels will have a huge impact on Timor-Leste.

More intense tropical storm activity could have a devastating effect on the country’s limited infrastructure and important offshore oil and gas facilities. In addition, around 80 per cent of the population relies on agriculture for their livelihood.

Timor-Leste’s government has acknowledged the importance of swift and collective action. It has already ratified a raft of international agreements including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the Kyoto Protocol to the UNFCCC.

In 2010, with UNDP support, Timor-Leste’s State Secretariat for Environment finalized its first National Adaptation Programme of Action for Climate Change (NAPA).

The NAPA provides Timor-Leste with a roadmap to help the country deal with climate change, identifying risks and vulnerabilities and outlining a list of measures to work towards climate change resilience.

Consultations with communities in five districts were held during the preparation of the NAPA, and as a result, hardships being experienced in communities such as those in Aileu are reflected in the document.

Crucially, the NAPA also fulfils Timor-Leste’s obligations under the UNFCCC and will therefore result in access to further international funding to implement projects and activities identified in the NAPA.

The Government hopes that the NAPA can be used in small part to empower communities to respond to climate change.

Communities such as the village of Tatilisame have already started projects to help them to cope with climate change.

Tatilisame has developed a home garden program to cope with water shortages and unpredictable rainfall.

Lettuce and vegetables harvested in the home gardens and sold in the capital Dili provide the community with money to buy rice and sustain their livelihoods.

Benevides dos Santos, a farmer who works in Tatilisame’s garden said: “For us the work in the home garden is really important as we produce lettuce, celery, chili and vegetables to sell in Dili.

“We can then afford to buy rice. But for those who don’t have home gardens, it’s going to be very difficult.”

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