Timor-Leste Coastal Communities Adapt to Climate ChangeCatch of the Week
Emerging as an independent nation in 2002 after decades of unrest, Timor-Leste faces many development challenges.
Around three quarters of the country’s 1.07 million people live in rural areas, and their reliance on natural resources for fishing and farming means that many are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change that could alter the condition and availability of these resources.
“We are already seeing what we think are the effects of climate change,” said Manuel Barreto, village head of Biqueli, a small community on Atauro Island located 25 kilometers off the coast from Dili.
“There has been a change in the rainfall pattern. For the last two years it hasn’t rained much during May and June, and this is affecting our agriculture,” he explained.
The observations of fishers and farmers like Manuel echo the rainfall and temperature data that has been collected in areas around Timor-Leste for decades.
“We have looked at observations of rainfall and temperature over the past 50 years to 60 years, and identified what we think may be a possible trend for today’s dry season to start up to anything like a month earlier than it did in the 1950s,” said WorldFish scientist Dr. Sarah Park.
The livelihood of fishers and farmers are dictated by the seasons, with the onset of the wet and dry periods governing what type of crops they can plant, and when they can go to sea.
“That has big implications for the types and amounts of crops that can be produced at certain times of the year. Some families might find that changes in climate brings opportunities, but for many it may result in an extended period of time when there is little food available, referred to as the hunger season,” she said.
A project jointly funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Global Environment Facility on “Responding to Climate Change Using an Adaptation Pathways and Decision-Making Approach” was implemented in partnership with Timorese national and regional government departments and nongovernment organizations (NGOs).
The project is helping fishers and farmers in the districts of Atauro and Batugade identify ways to adapt to a changing climate.
Residents of Atauro and Batugade are predominantly coastal people, and their fishing and farming activities are sensitive to even small changes in climate. There is a pressing need to engage with community members to help identify adaptation actions. Consultations with national and regional government representatives were held to identify their role in development of an enabling environment for fishers and farmers to improve their livelihoods.
Recognizing this need, the project team used participatory approaches through a series of workshops in both districts to bring the voices of the fishers and farmers to the forefront in identifying how climate change is likely to affect their livelihoods, and ways they can adapt to these changes.
In the workshops, fishers and farmers were split into focus groups to discuss the specific ways they thought climate change could impact on their livelihoods. Importantly, they identified actions they could take to respond to these impacts, particularly given the likelihood of further changes in temperature, rainfall, and other climate variables.
The project team presented further ideas for adaptations and worked with the communities to evaluate their “best bet” adaptations from social, environmental, and economic perspectives.
The youth in the community also joined in the workshops by drawing their visions of how they want their communities to look in the future—surrounded by large fish and abundant agriculture.
However, a changing climate is not the only issue faced by the communities. Declining near-shore fish stocks, resulting in a lack of income from fishing, is an important natural resource management issue that needs to be addressed alongside climate change.
“There are fewer fish being caught in the water between Atauro and Dili,” Manuel said. “We don’t think this is because of climate change, but because of a misuse of natural resources by our people. For fish to grow bigger and produce more eggs, we know that we need to protect our near-shore fishing area by fishing in deeper water instead.”
Manuel was one of more than 30 men and women involved in the workshops in Atauro, which he said were very valuable to his community.
“Through the workshops, the project looked deeply at the lives of people in Atauro. The information from the workshops is useful because our population is increasing, our sea resources are decreasing and so are our incomes. The project is helping our people to be more aware, and their support is helping us adapt our livelihoods to suit these climate changes,” he said.
A fisherman at the workshop in Atauro agreed, adding that “The information is clear and useful. It is good information because the fishers provided the information, it is our information.”
If climate change projections are realized, coastal communities in Timor-Leste will need to adapt to a longer dry season, a shorter wet season, more intense rainfall in winter months, and a rise in sea level and sea-surface temperatures.
Collectively, the communities of Atauro and Batugade identified over 50 ways that climate change could impact their lives. To respond to these potential impacts they also identified 74 adaptation options, mostly focusing on better management of the natural resources that underpin fishing and farming.
In both Atauro and Batugade, communities wanted to relieve pressure on the near-shore fisheries by increasing their ability to fish different species using new technologies and skills. They also wanted to increase the farming of climate “smart” trees and crops, and better integrate animals into their farms with sustainable agriculture practices, such as using manure to make compost.
Improving the collection of water during the wet season was also seen as a way to adapt to an increasingly longer dry season.
Through working with communities to undertake economic, social, and environmental evaluations of their proposed adaptation options, Dr. Park said that the project assisted the communities by providing information that may help them in making decisions about what are the most appropriate options for them to adapt and move forward.
“We also helped them map (using social network analysis) to obtain funds, technical information and support, and to actually take their ideas about how they want to adapt, and make them happen”, she added.
This map has helped Manuel and his neighbors plan their course of action.
“I will pass the information from the workshop to the ‘Chefe Aldeaia’ (subvillage or community chief), who will then pass it along to the smaller communities. It’s important to spread this information”, he said.
The project engaged over 50 men and women from Atauro and Batugade, and has provided information to support them in making their own informed decisions about their community’s future in a changing climate.
Taking multiple methods and using them in a participatory way with the communities enabled the project team to see if the methods were collectively useful as a toolkit for planning responses to climate change. It was also a test to see if such toolkits can be used by NGOs or government departments with other communities in the five focal countries included in the ADB RETA (Regional Technical Assistance) “Strengthening Coastal and Marine Resources Management in the Coral Triangle of the Pacific.”
The effects of climate change are already being felt throughout the Pacific in countries like Timor-Leste, Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Fiji, which will need to build climate change responses into their development activities to secure the livelihoods of their people.
The participatory process of working with communities to identify how climate change will impact on their livelihoods, and using their local knowledge to propose adaptation options, will benefit many communities throughout the Pacific.
(Article and photos courtesy of WorldFish)