COVID-19 Op-ed

Remembering the Forgotten Frontliners in Timor Leste During Covid-19 and Beyond

Written by admin

Ato Lekinawa CostaEditor in
Chief Online News-Neon Metin

All over the world, health workers, doctors, nurses have
become the unsung heroes in this fight against COVID-19. We should not also
forget others who are at the frontlines such as cleaners and those working in
the food, hospitality and essential goods industries. In Timor-Leste, and
perhaps in many parts of the developing world, there is a sector in society,
which remains steadfast and committed to their work/livelihood and the
well-being of their compatriots: Farmers, those who I call the “forgotten
frontliners”.On 27 March, President of Timor-Leste, Fransisco Guterres Lu-Olo
declared a state of emergency for a month starting from 28 March until 26
April 2020. The government imposed guidelines to be followed by the public
during this period including staying at home, wearing mask and physical
distancing when in public.  The decree also banned the operation of
public transportation, which paralyses public movement even further.
Healthwise, the decree may help suppress the spread of the virus, but it has
also disabled those who are already economically and socially vulnerable,
including daily wage earners and those in the agricultural sector.COVID-19
has become a great un-equaliser, especially in a least developing country
like Timor Leste. While everyone is left vulnerable, the poor, mainly at the
rural areas, are left at the bottom of the chain scrambling to fend for their
needs and fight for survival. Timor Leste, one of the youngest nation in the
world, relies heavily on agriculture, with 80% of the population being
farmers. The Oxfam Agricultural Assessment Report revealed that about nearly
70% of farmers cultivate on less than one hectare of land, many of whom are
small land holders.Life has already been extremely difficult for farmers in
Timor-Leste even before the coronavirus outbreak struck the country. Their
livelihood is about subsistence, if not survival. Farm to market roads are
underdeveloped, and are mostly difficult to access. In an interview I
conducted few months ago with a villager in Ura-Hou, Ermera revealed that
there is no public transportation to and from their village because the road
is so bad. If they want to sell their produce they have to bring to market in
Tasi-Tolu, Dili. For this to happen, they have to rent a truck which cost
US$150 dollar. In Dili they could stay in the market selling their produce
for one or two days—which is a long time away from their families and
farms.Most farmers are compelled to sell their produce within their
respective communities. Some who can access markets, do not sell much and
well. This is not because they don’t produce much to sell in big quantity but
because they know when they produce more there will be no buyers. Oxfam’s
Agricultural Report quoted a female horticulture farmer who said,
We grow a lot but it’s too hard to get money from our produce; we
do not have access to market because of bad roads and no public transport in
this Suku. Even in this Suku we do not have any market or local market. We
are far from Viqueque”. In some places in Timor-Leste, where road conditions
a bit better, supermarket is sending its refrigerated truck for purchasing
local vegetables but that is only in one of places. 
and the Government’s response has just exacerbated the dire situation of
farmers throughout the country. While they have to commit to the preservation
of national health and safety, they also have to find ways to survive—and
help others to free themselves from hunger. They are, indeed, the lifeline of
the nation—with or without Covid-19. Safety nets and proper promotion
& protection of their livelihood should be prioritised by the
government during and after the state of emergency.While the current case
count of Timor Leste is much lower compared to the rest of the world, let
this be a lesson that while the Coronavirus may not really threaten the
livese of the Timorese, poverty and hunger are most likely to do that
job.  We must act on behalf of our forgotten frontliners now before it’s
too late.References:National
Statistics Directorate (NSD) of Timor-Leste], Ministry of Finance
(Timor-Leste), and ICF Macro. (2010). Timor-Leste Demographic and
Health Survey 2009-10
. Dili, Timor-Leste.Oxfam International in
Timor-leste. (2019). Towards Economic Diversification in
. Dili, Timor-LesteOxfam International in Timor-Leste.
(2020), Agricultural Assessment, OXFAM in Timor-Leste.
Dili, Timor-Leste.Vieira, Zevonia. (2020, March 27th).
PR Dekreta Estadu Emerjensia, Sei Limite Dereitu balun Laos
Halakon, Atu Defende Povo Nia Vida
. Retrieved from
Vieira, Zevonia, (2020. March 28). COVID-19, KM Aprova
Dekretu Governu Ba Medidas Ezekusaun Estadu Emerjensia.

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