In developing countries, small-scale fisheries are both a pivotal source of livelihood and essential for the nutritional intake of larger food insecure populations. Distribution networks that move fish from landing sites to coastal and inland consumers offer entry points to address livelihood enhancement and food security objectives of rural development initiatives. To be able to utilize fish distribution networks to address national development targets, a sound understanding of how local systems function and are organized is imperative. Here we present an in-depth examination of a domestic market chain in Timor-Leste that supplies small-pelagic fish to coastal and inland communities. We present the market chain’s different commodity flows and its distributive reach, and show how social organization strongly influences people’s access to fish, by determining availability and affordability. We suggest there is potential to advance Timor-Leste’s food and nutrition security targets by engaging with local influential actors and existing social relations across fish distribution networks. We argue that in addition to developing improvements to fish distribution infrastructure, utilizing existing or locally familiar practices, organization and social capital offers opportunity for long term self-sufficiency. Livelihood and food security improvement initiatives involving natural resource-dependent communities are more likely to succeed if they incorporate rural development perspectives, which frame directly targeted interventions (‘intentional’ development) within broader structural contexts (‘immanent’ development).
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Reference to Bobonaro within the context of this study refers to the Municipality (district), and not the similarly named Administrative Post (subdistrict) or Village (suco).
Other significant market sites in Bobonaro include Batugade, Balibo and Atabae Vila. However, due to its status as Municipality capital, its central location and having the largest population in the Municipality, Maliana is the largest fish distribution point in Bobonaro (Timor-Leste NSD 2015).
Umane fetosaan relations between families are characterised by entitlements bestowed on umane as ‘wife givers’(i.e. wife’s family) and fetosaan as ‘wife takers’ (i.e. husbands family), and duties assigned to manefoun (son in law). The latter reflects a directional power relation that is based on recognition of umane’s efforts and sacrifices in raising the wife. With various marriage relations associated to a family, people typically hold both positions, resulting in a somewhat even distribution of taking and receiving roles (see also Ospina and Hohe 2002; McWilliam 2011; ten Brinke 2018).
Alonso Población, E. (2013). Fisheries and food security in Timor-Leste: The effects of ritual meat exchanges and market chains on fishing. Food Security, 5(6), 807–816. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-013-0308-2.
Alonso Población, E., Wilson, C., Rodrigues, P., Pereira, M., & Griffiths, D. (2012). Policy and practice: Recommendations for sustainable fisheries development in Timor-Leste. Bangkok: FAO Regional Fisheries Livelihoods Programme for South and Southeast Asia.
Alonso Población, E., Rodrigues, P., & Lee, R. (2013). Tara Bandu as a coastal and marine resource management mechanism: A case study in Biacou, Timor-Leste. In S. V. Siar & D. Kalikoski (Eds.), Strengthening organizations and collective action in fisheries towards the formulation of a capacity development programme- workshop report and case studies 4-6 November (pp. 301–340). Barbados: FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
Alonso-Población, E., Fidalgo-Castro, A., & Pena-Castro, M. J. (2018a). Bargaining Kultura: Tensions between principles of power acquisition in contemporary Timor-Leste. Sociologus, 68(2), 107–124. https://doi.org/10.3790/soc.68.2.107.
Alonso-Población, E., Rodrigues, P., Wilson, C., Pereira, M., & Lee, R. U. (2018b). Narrative assemblages for power-balanced coastal and marine governance. Tara Bandu as a tool for community-based fisheries co-management in Timor-Leste. Maritime Studies, 17(1), 55–67. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40152-018-0093-9.
AMSAT International. (2011a). Fish and animal protein consumption and availability in Timor-Leste. Rome: FAO Regional Fisheries Livelihoods Programme for South and Southeast Asia (GCP/RAS/237/SPA).
AMSAT International. (2011b). Report on Fisheries Livelihoods Baseline Survey in Timor-Leste. Rome: FAO Regional Fisheries Livelihoods Programme for South and Southeast Asia (GCP/RAS/237/SPA).
Andersen, A. B., Pant, J., & Haraksingh Thilsted, S. (2013). Food and nutrition security in Timor-Leste. Canberra: Aquatic Agriculture Systems, CGIAR.
Andrew, N., Kam, S. P., & Philips, M. (2011). Mapping fisheries dependence and aquaculture development in Timor-leste: A scoping study (pp. 1–22). Jakarta: Coral Triangle Support Partnership.
Aspinall, E., Hicken, A., Scambary, J., & Weiss, M. (2018). Timor-leste votes: Parties and patronage. Journal of Democracy, 29(1), 153–167. https://doi.org/10.1353/jod.2018.0013.
Bailey, C., & Jentoft, S. (1990). Hard choices in fisheries development. Marine Policy, 14(4), 333–344. https://doi.org/10.1016/0308-597X(90)90055-V.
Bailey, M., Bush, S., Oosterveer, P., & Larastiti, L. (2016). Fishers, fair trade, and finding middle ground. Fisheries Research, 182(October 2016), 59–68. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2015.11.027.
Barr, R., Bruner, A., & Edwards, S. (2019). Fisheries improvement projects and small-scale fisheries: The need for a modified approach. Marine Policy, 105, 109–115. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2019.02.053.
Béné, C., Arthur, R., Norbury, H., Allison, E. H., Beveridge, M., Bush, S., et al. (2016). Contribution of fisheries and aquaculture to food security and poverty reduction: Assessing the current evidence. World Development, 79, 177–196. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.worlddev.2015.11.007.
Chambers, R., & Conway, G. R. (1992). Sustainable rural livelihoods: Practical concepts for the 21st century. Discussion paper 296. Brighton: Institute of Development Studies.
Chambers, R., Pacey, A., & Thrupp, L. A. (1989). Farmer first: Farmer innovation and agricultural research. London: Intermediate Technology Publications.
Christensen, M. B. (2010a). Feasibility study on hygienic production of ice for the small scale fisheries sector in Timor-Leste. Rome, Italy: United Nations food and agriculture organization - regional fisheries livelihoods Programme for south and Southeast Asia (GCP/RAS/237/SPA).
Christensen, V. (2010b). MEY = MSY. Fish and Fisheries, 11(1), 105–110. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-2979.2009.00341.x.
Crona, B. I., Nyström, M., Folke, C., & Jiddawi, N. (2010). Middlemen, a critical social-ecological link in coastal communities of Kenya and Zanzibar. Marine Policy, 34(4), 761–771. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2010.01.023.
Crona, B. I., Basurto, X., Squires, D., Gelcich, S., Daw, T. M., Khan, A., et al. (2016). Towards a typology of interactions between small-scale fisheries and global seafood trade. Marine Policy, 65, 1–10. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2015.11.016.
da Costa, M., Lopes, M., Ximenes, A., Ferreira, A. D. R., Spyckerelle, L., Williams, R., et al. (2013). Household food insecurity in Timor-Leste. Food Security, 5(1), 83–94. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-012-0228-6.
Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. (2011). Timor-Leste strategic development plan, 2011-2030. Dili: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. (2014). National Food and nutrition security policy. Dili: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. (2017). National food and nutrition security policy. Dili: Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste.
Drury O'Neill, E., Crona, B., Ferrer, A. J. G., Pomeroy, R., & Jiddawi, N. S. (2018). Who benefits from seafood trade? A comparison of social and market structures in small-scale fisheries. Ecology and Society, 23(3). https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-10331-230312.
Fabinyi, M., Dressler, W. H., & Pido, M. D. (2017). Fish, trade and food security: Moving beyond ‘availability’ discourse in marine conservation. Human Ecology, 45(2), 177–188. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-016-9874-1.
Feidi, I. H. (2005). The fisheries of Zanzibar: Potential for new investments. Worldfish Center Quarterly, 28(3), 37–40.
Fluet-Chouinard, E., Funge-Smith, S., & McIntyre, P. B. (2018). Global hidden harvest of freshwater fish revealed by household surveys. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(29), 7623–7628. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1721097115.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2009). Fishery and aquaculture country profiles: The Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
General Directorate of Statistics, & ICF. (2018). Timor Leste demographic and health survey 2016. Dili: Ministry of Health, General Directorate of Statistics and ICF.
Gillett, R. E. (2010). Fisheries centres in the Pacific Islands: Lessons learned? SPC Fisheries Newsletter, 133, 29–34.
González-Mon, B., Bodin, Ö., Crona, B., Nenadovic, M., & Basurto, X. (2019). Small-scale fish buyers' trade networks reveal diverse actor types and differential adaptive capacities. Ecological Economics, 164, 106338. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolecon.2019.05.018.
Grafton, R. Q. (2005). Social capital and fisheries governance. Ocean and Coastal Management, 48(9-10), 753–766.
Harriss, J. (1982). Rural development: theories of peasant economy and agrarian change (Hutchinson university library for Africa). London: Hutchinson.
Hosgelen, M., & Saikia, U. (2016). Timor-Leste's demographic challenges for environment, peace and nation building. Asia Pacific Viewpoint, 57(2), 244–262. https://doi.org/10.1111/apv.12117.
Jentoft, S., & Chuenpagdee, R. (2009). Fisheries and coastal governance as a wicked problem. Marine Policy, 33(4), 553–560. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2008.12.002.
Johnson, A. E., Cinner, J. E., Hardt, M. J., Jacquet, J., McClanahan, T. R., & Sanchirico, J. N. (2013). Trends, current understanding and future research priorities for artisanal coral reef fisheries research. Fish and Fisheries, 14(3), 281–292. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-2979.2012.00468.x.
Kirby, F., & Di’ak, E. (2018). Supply chain analysis: Availability of fresh fish and fish products in landlocked municipalities in Timor-Leste. Dili: Empreza Di'ak.
Kittinger, J. N., Teneva, L. T., Koike, H., Stamoulis, K. A., Kittinger, D. S., Oleson, K. L. L., et al. (2015). From reef to table: Social and ecological factors affecting coral reef fisheries, artisanal seafood supply chains, and seafood security. PLoS One, 10(8), e0123856. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0123856.
Lentisco, A., Rodrigues, P., Pereira, M., Needham, S., & Griffiths, D. (2013). Case study: Supporting small-scale fisheries through the reactivation of fish-landing centres in Timor-Leste. Dili: Regional fisheries livelihoods program (RFLP) for south and Southeast Asia - food and agriculture organization (FAO).
Long, N. (2001). Development sociology: Actor perspectives. London: Routledge.
Madison, D. S. (2005). Critical ethnography: Methods, ethics and performance (1st ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
McClanahan, T., Allison, E. H., & Cinner, J. E. (2015). Managing fisheries for human and food security. Fish and Fisheries, 16(1), 78–103. https://doi.org/10.1111/faf.12045.
McGoodwin, J. R. (2001). Understanding the cultures of fishing communities: A key to fisheries management and food security. FAO Fisheries Technical Paper (pp. 1-287). Rome: Food and agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
McGregor, A. (2007). Development, foreign aid and post-development in Timor-Leste. Third World Quarterly, 28(1), 155–170. https://doi.org/10.1080/01436590601081955.
McWilliam, A. (2002). Timorese seascapes: Perspectives on customary marine tenures in East Timor. The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, 3(2), 6–32. https://doi.org/10.1080/14442210210001706266.
McWilliam, A. (2011). Exchange and resilience in Timor-Leste. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17(4), 745–763. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-9655.2011.01717.x.
Mills, D. J., Abernethy, K. A., King, J., Hoddy, E. T., Teoh, S. J., Larocca, P., et al. (2013). Developing Timor-Leste’s coastal economy: Assessing potential climate change impacts and adaptation options. Final report to the Australian Government Coral Triangle Initiative on Coral Reefs, Fisheries and Food Security National Initiative (pp. 1-142). Penang: WorldFish.
Mills, D. J., Tilley, A., Pereira, M., Hellebrandt, D., Pereira Fernandes, A., & Cohen, P. J. (2017). Livelihood diversity and dynamism in Timor-Leste: Insights for coastal resource governance and livelihood development. Marine Policy, 82, 206–215. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2017.04.021.
Miñarro, S., Navarrete Forero, G., Reuter, H., & van Putten, I. E. (2016). The role of patron-client relations on the fishing behaviour of artisanal fishermen in the Spermonde archipelago (Indonesia). Marine Policy, 69, 73–83. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2016.04.006.
Molyneux, N., da Cruz, G. R., Williams, R. L., Andersen, R., & Turner, N. C. (2012). Climate change and population growth in Timor Leste: Implications for food security. Ambio, 41(8), 823–840. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13280-012-0287-0.
Morse, S., & McNamara, N. (2013). The theory behind the sustainable livelihood approach. In S. Morse & N. McNamara (Eds.), Sustainable livelihood approach: A critique of theory and practice (pp. 15–60). Dordrecht: Springer.
Moser, C. O. N. (1998). The asset vulnerability framework: Reassessing urban poverty reduction strategies. World Development, 26(1), 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0305-750X(97)10015-8.
NDFA. (2013). Timor-Leste national aquaculture devlopment strategy 2012-2030. Dili: National Directorate of fisheries and aquaculture (NDFA).
Ospina, S., & Hohe, T. (2002). Traditional power structures and local governance in East Timor: a case study of the Community Empowerment Project (CEP) (Études courtes, Vol. 5). Geneva: Graduate Institute of Development Studies.
Overå, R. (2011). Modernisation narratives and small-scale fisheries in Ghana and Zambia. Forum for Development Studies, 38(3), 321–343. https://doi.org/10.1080/08039410.2011.596569.
Palmer, L., Niner, S., & Kent, L. (Eds.). (2006). Exploring the Tensions of Nation Building in Timor-Leste (School of Social and Environmental Enquiry, Vol. 1). Melbourne: University of Melbourne.
Roxas, H. B., & Azmat, F. (2014). Community social capital and entrepreneurship: Analyzing the links. Community Development, 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1080/15575330.2014.880495.
Steenbergen, D. J. (2016). Strategic customary village leadership in the context of marine conservation and development in Southeast Maluku, Indonesia. Human Ecology, 44(3), 311–327. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10745-016-9829-6.
Steenbergen, D. J., & Visser, L. E. (2016). Caught between mediation and local dependence: Understanding the role of non-government Organisations in co-management of coastal resources in eastern Indonesia. Anthropological Forum, 26(2), 115–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/00664677.2016.1148012.
Steenbergen, D. J., & Warren, C. (2018). Implementing strategies to overcome social-ecological traps: The role of community brokers and institutional bricolage in a locally managed marine area. Ecology and Society, 23(3). https://doi.org/10.5751/ES-10256-230310.
ten Brinke, S. (2018). Citizens by waiting: Timorese young adults between state politics and customary authority. Citizenship Studies, 22(8), 882–896. https://doi.org/10.1080/13621025.2018.1538318.
Timor-Leste NSD. (2015). 2015 Timor-Leste population and housing census: Data sheet. Dili: Timor-Leste National Statistics Directorate.
Toribio, J.-A., Markham, R., Carter, L., Law, A., Alders, R., Dibley, M., et al. (2018). Research for development to improve health outcomes from agriculture for rural communities: What is needed? [journal article]. Food Security, 10(3), 661–675. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-018-0787-2.
UNDP. (2011). Mobilize social business to accelerate achievement of Timor-Leste MDGs (2012 - 2015). (pp. 28). Dili: United Nations Development Programme - Timor Leste.
Visser, L. E. (Ed.). (2004). Challenging Coasts: Transdisciplinary Excursions into Integrated Coastal Zone Development (Centre for Maritime Research (MARE) publication series). Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press.
von Grebmer, K., Bernstein, J., Nabarro, D., Prasai, N., Amin, S., Yohannes, Y., et al. (2016). Global hunger index: Getting to zero hunger. Bonn: Welthungerhilfe, International Food Policy Research Institute, and Concern Worldwide.
Wamukota, A. W., Brewer, T. D., & Crona, B. I. (2014). Market integration and its relation to income distribution and inequality among fishers and traders: The case of two small-scale Kenyan reef fisheries. Marine Policy, 48, 93–101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpol.2014.03.013.
Wamukota, A. W., Crona, B., Osuka, K., & Daw, T. M. (2015). The importance of selected individual characteristics in determining market prices for fishers and traders in Kenyan small-scale fisheries. Society & Natural Resources, 28(9), 959–974. https://doi.org/10.1080/08941920.2015.1014600.
World Bank. (2016). Poverty in Timor-Leste 2014. Washington, DC: World Bank Group.
World Bank. (2017). East Asia and Pacific economic update: Timor Leste. In East Asia and Pacific economic update, April 2017 (pp. 164-167). Washington DC.
The authors acknowledge support from staff from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) in the district of Maliana and the aldeia administrative staff in Beacou. Assistance of WorldFish Timor-Leste staff was critical in setting up the fieldwork, particularly Mario Pereira. We are grateful for the time and information provided by respondents in the village of Beacou, as well as those interviewed in-transit, at markets and in consumer households in and around Maliana. Fieldwork was made possible with funding from a Charles Darwin University (CDU) post doctoral fellowship co-funded through the North Australian Marine Research Alliance (NAMRA) in partnership with the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), the Australian National University (ANU) and the Northern Territory Government [NAMRA-02-2014]. Further support was provided by SwedBio (a programme at Stockholm Resilience Centre), Australian National Centre for Agriculture Research (ACIAR – FIS/2010/097) and the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) Research Program on Fish in Agri-food Systems (‘FISH’). Finally, the authors thank the anonymous reviewers for their constructive comments and Neil Andrew for his review of drafts.
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.
Human ethics approval
All procedures performed in the study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee (Charles Darwin University Human Research Ethics Committee, H14084) and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.
About this article
Cite this article
Steenbergen, D.J., Eriksson, H., Hunnam, K. et al. Following the fish inland: understanding fish distribution networks for rural development and nutrition security. Food Sec. 11, 1417–1432 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12571-019-00982-3
- Coastal livelihoods
- Fish distribution networks
- Food and nutrition security
- Rural development
- Small-scale fisheries