Foos for thought

One major gap in Timorese historiography, among many, is a study of the periods of hunger documented in the past two centuries and imports of food stuffs. Plenty of data exists in the colonial archives, and even in the Boletim Oficial de Timor online.

I remember reading fascinating documents in Lisbon describing the negotiations by American agency Catholic Relief Services with the fascist regime, asking for permission to feed Timorese people during a famine in the 1960s.

Word is, on the eve of my departure last week, that the government struck its deal to import enough (and more) rice per month to get through a potential food crisis and give rice to civil servants and FDTL. In the end, the food security (or sovereignty, depending on your point of view) issue remains the domain of malai advisers and a few at a Council of Ministers level able to make big decisions. Who knows what the massive importation of rice will do to local producers. (The government claims it is going to contract a company to buy haree, unprocessed rice, at elevated prices from farmers, then process and sell at subsidized prices.)

But it’s unlikely Timorese rice producers ever had enough of a say to pressure governments for less importation and more attention to internal markets.

I came across this fascinating passage from Azorian [correction: Australian of Portuguese descent] writer J. Chrys Chrystello’s “East Timor: The Secret File 1973-75“, where he describes May 1973 (before the oil crisis of October)

In addition, during May the new Head of the Department of Economy, Dr. Henrique Chagas de Jesus is inaugurated to what will soon become the most inflation-ridden chapter of the Timorese economy. Spiralling costs provoke generalised alarm, and in the midst of the crisis, the absolute incompetence of Dr. Jesus is compounded with additional dosages of improvised measures. Rice rots in the Suai area (South Coast), and emergency shipments are brought in from Singapore and Australia at prices ten times higher.

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