An approach to characterise agricultural livelihoods and livelihood zones using national census data in Timor-Leste


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This research aimed to develop a typology of agriculture in Timor-Leste using national census data at the village level. Although Timor-Leste is a relatively small nation, its varied topography contains a rich diversity in agricultural livelihoods, from coffee covered mountains, to dryland-swidden agriculture. Each of the livelihoods are very complex, with a single household often managing more than 10 crop and 4–5 animal species in very small holdings. Using census data from each village only, statistical clustering analysis was used to group villages with similar levels of participation in crop and livestock production. The clustered village groups were then mapped, and it was seen that villages in each cluster, occupied particular locations. Using expert knowledge about the locations of each cluster, livelihood zones based on a small number of rules were defined to mimic the output of the clustering. Seven livelihood zones were identified from mapping the livelihood systems. These included three zones with irrigation (rice-based), two highland zones (coffee-based) and two lowland zones based on rain-fed agriculture. Government and development agencies have endorsed the typology of livelihood zones, which is now in use for planning and decision-making. The technique of using national census data to define agricultural zones through statistical clustering can be replicated wherever there is reliable village-level census data.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)857-873
Number of pages17
JournalExperimental Agriculture
Issue number6
Early online date9 Oct 2017
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018


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