TL has a turbulent modern history interspersed with foreign rule, war, independence in 2002 and periods of political instability. The country has sustained growth rates of between 8% and 14% since 2007 (World Bank development indicators, accessed 2015), but is amongst the most oil-dependent country in the world. Non-oil per capita GDP was $610 in 2010 (RDTL, 2010) and is a low-middle income country, ranked 128 (of 187) in the World Bank Human Development Index. Half of the population falls below the national poverty line of $1.25 per day. Following three years of double-digit inflation, commodity price rises eased in 2014 (Asian Development Bank, 2014).
The national population of TL in 2010 was 1.07 million. This represents an annual average increase of 2.41% over 2004, the highest in the Asia-Pacific region and the highest fertility rates in the region. At these rates the population will double by 2039. TL has an urban population of just 27%, one of the lowest in the world. However 43% of the urban population is located in the three districts of Dili, Emera and Baucau, and Dili has a population growth rate of 4.8% (NSD and UNFPA, 2011).
The main crops in TL are corn, rice and cassava and, in semi-subsistence systems, more than two-thirds are self-consumed by farmers that grow the crops. About half of all fruits and vegetables and virtually all coffee is sold off-farm. However, the majority of agricultural cash income in rural areas is derived from livestock – in order of importance pigs, cattle, buffalo and chickens. Revenue from livestock in rural areas is higher than from non-agricultural activities (off-farm labour) or transfers (e.g. pensions and welfare) (NSD, 2011). Livestock play an important role in cultural and traditional activities (weddings, funerals, dowry, sacrifices).
In 2010, 80% of households in TL raised livestock and 23% (or 43,000 of 185,000 households) raised cattle, but this can be as high as 30% in western areas of the country. 19,000 households – or 10% of all households – raise buffalo (NSD, 2011). Both poor and non-poor households raise cattle, and sell about the same proportions of their cattle, but the average size of the cattle holdings for poor households (1.1 head) was half that of non-poor households (2 head) (NSD, 2008).