Representatives from UNSW travelled to Dili last week for an initial scoping study for a new aquaculture program in Timor-Leste.

The visit was undertaken at the request of President José Ramos-Horta and builds upon UNSW’s history of supporting Timor-Leste’s development.

Over the course of the week, Professor Jes Sammut, who leads the UNSW Aquaculture Research Group, and Professor Greg Leslie, Director of the UNSW Global Water Institute, met with prominent stakeholders across government, academia, the UN, and civil society in Timor-Leste – including representatives from the National University of East Timor (UNTL); Dili Institute of Technology (DIT); the diplomatic missions of Australia, New Zealand, and US; the TOMAK (To'os ba Moris Di'ak) Program; and FAO, UNDP, and resident coordinator of the UN.

Professor Greg Leslie and Professor Jes Sammut with President José Ramos-Horta

Field visit to the Manatuto Municipality with Ego Lemos

Sammut and Leslie also conducted a field visit to the Manatuto Municipality, to survey a community spring restoration project being spearheaded by
Timorese artist and water conservation activist Ego Lemos, with plans to improve supply and quality of drinking water. In March, Mr Lemos will be hosted by the Institute for Global Development and the Global Water Institute in Sydney to deepen this collaboration.

Jes Sammut with a representative from UNTL

Sammut and Leslie with representatives from UNTL, UNDP, and DIT

These discussions, following up on last August’s visit to Timor-Leste, have allowed UNSW to gain a better understanding of food and water security in Timor Leste.

The UNSW Aquaculture Research Group has worked on aquaculture development projects for Timor-Leste’s neighbours – including Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Vietnam, India, Thailand and the Philippines – to great success. As one of the most malnourished nations in the world (ranking 112th out of 125 countries in the 2023 Global Hunger Index), sustainably managed local fisheries and aquaculture are an attractive potential solution to mitigating malnutrition in Timor-Leste.

UNSW’s engagement in Timor-Leste is part of the University’s broader effort of “strategic accompaniment” to achieve impact and stand out as a leading university, beyond cohering research and teaching investments.

Supported by the UNSW Institute for Global Development, the harnessing of STEM capabilities, such as UNSW’s world-leading expertise in aquaculture, at the intersection of security, politics, and development in the geography of vulnerable and high-risk states such as Timor-Leste is a key element of that strategic accompaniment.