As could be expected in a newly-independent, low-income country with a beef industry with a short history, the industry is at an early stage of development marked by low input–low production systems, rudimentary marketing and processing systems, significant animal disease and food safety issues, and low product “quality”. The GoTL have sought to develop the beef industry with, as also could be expected, assistance from external development programs.
One key policy document (DGLVS, 2013) presents a broad, comprehensive policy framework for development of the sector consisting of three broad over-arching strategies: increased cattle production and productivity; an increase in public goods (especially animal health); and import replacement and export promotion.2
On the production side, several practice changes in forage and cattle management appear adaptable to Timor Leste to increase productivity. However, uptake of these changes in small-holder systems means changes in deeply embedded practices and outlooks that is a long term process. Few resources or programs focus on cattle production and, as is the case throughout the region, extension activity highly variable. Improvement in animal health sector has especially been done through training and recruiting “village health workers” on an incentive or user-pays basis with mixed results. Import replacement (153 tonnes of beef in 2014), let alone exports is not a realistic goal yet.
Much of the policy attention in recent years has been on downstream sectors of the chain (cattle marketing, slaughter and retail) through funding from government and development agencies and – necessarily in parallel – regulation3. The aim is to promote a shift from small-scale slaughter and retailing structures to more centralised and corporatised structures in order to improve food safety and product quality that will generate margins that can be passed back to farmers in the form of higher prices (if based on weights over-the-scales). This is effectively an attempt to “leap frog” other intermediate models of development dominated by spot markets, service slaughter plants integrated closely with wet markets (seen throughout Southeast Asia, see other country profiles)4. Time will tell if this strategy can be implemented and enforced and will prove successful.