November 21 may mark World Fisheries Day, but for Agustinha Duarte, a researcher from East Timor, her passion for fisheries goes year round – she’s even working on a cookbook to help Timorese make the most of local varieties.
Duarte, an analyst for research NGO WorldFish, focusing on gender, livelihoods and value chains, says her team is writing a cookbook to promote consumption of nutritious fish in a country that suffers from high rates of malnutrition and stunting, the impaired growth and development children experience from poor nutrition and other causes.
The book, Te’in Ikan No Hahán Tasi Iha Timor-Leste (Cooking Fish & Seafood in Timor Leste – Recipes and Stories of Traditions & Livelihoods) is set to publish soon.
“I have been working with WorldFish for fours years as a research analyst for the Coastal Livelihood project which focuses on livelihood, gender, value chain and nutrition activities,” she said, ” but the biggest challenge is how to convince fisheries community to more productive (catching and processing) and awareness of people to eat fish and seafood as a part of health diet.”
Duarte says the global Covid-19 pandemic is a big opportunity to develop a mainstay domestic product for the nutritional needs of children and women.
“For example, through our project we help women group in Atabae in the west of the country to produce fish powder mix with some local ingredients,” she said.
Duarte says the role of fisheries in combating malnutrition in Timor Leste is to improve production and distribution as well as increasing awareness about the benefit of eating fish, adding that the cookbook plays a big role in that.
On International Rural Women Day which we held in October last month, Duarte and her colleagues hosted an event in Dili, East Timor’s capital where the guest of honor was former East Timorese President Jose Ramos Horta
“This was a form of his support of the fisheries sector to play a role in fighting the malnutrition issue in Timor Leste,” she said.
Duarte says that in addition to the cookbook and leading of the implementation of other projects in the country, she is doing research and writing reports. She says a big challenge, in a country that speaks a myriad of languages including Bunak, Tetum, Fataluku, and Portuguese, is how she needs to adapt to writing in academic English.
“Our project is special because we are doing a small thing but it can have a big effect,” she said.
Duarte says her childhood experience as a coastal community family member who is familiar with fish and seafood easily adapts to her work with fisheries and fishing communities.
“I grew up in the coastal area of a small area in Viqueque-Uatucarbau (on the south-east coast of East-Timor),” she said, adding that although her educational background is not a fisheries degree, her cultural underpinnings have helped a great deal.
Duarte, who has a bachelor’s degree in agriculture and a diploma in Community Development is just one of thousands who celebrated World Fisheries Day on November 21.
The commemorative day was founded by fishing communities in 1998 as a way to celebrate both the profession and the way of life. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), not only are fish one of the most widely traded foodstuffs, totaling 135 billion USD in 2015, developing countries have increased their share of trade from just 37% of total volume in 1976 to 60% in 2015.
Food security has been a top priority in East Timor during the pandemic. When the first case of COVID-19 was reported on March 21, the government of the tiny Southeast Asian nation shut its borders with Indonesia, from which it gained independence in 2002 after a UN-backed referendum in 1999.
According to the WHO, between January 3 and November 12 2020, Timor-Leste has had only 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 0 deaths.
Fidelis Magalhães, Timor-Leste’s Minister of Legislative Reforms and Parliamentary Affairs and acting Minister Coordinator of Economic Affairs, writing for the Diplomat said the national government has not only authorized a cash transfer of $100 to households with monthly income of under $500, they are also funding $5 million in subsidies for agricultural machinery, fuel, technology, and inputs to keep food supply moving in the country.