Women’s empowerment in agriculture, animal-source food production and children’s dietary diversity in rural Timor-Leste

Women’s empowerment in agriculture, animal-source food production and children’s dietary diversity in rural Timor-Leste

In rural Timor-Leste, agriculture is the main livelihood activity for 70% of its population yet seasonal food insecurity and malnutrition are widespread with pervasive child and maternal micronutrient deficiencies.  Interventions promoting the production of Animal-Source Foods (ASF) are considered an effective food-based approach for dietary diversification in low-income environments as they carry considerable potential to effectively address micronutrient deficiencies. However, sociocultural factors might influence ASF intake of children and women, while women’s empowerment is considered crucial for improving nutrition outcomes.

The aim of this PhD is to investigate whether the degree of women’s empowerment in agriculture influences dietary diversity of children under five years old in eastern Timor-Leste, and to assess changes through a programme focusing on nutrition education and animal-source foods (ASF) production. The nutrition-sensitive agricultural (NSA) programme aims to improve nutrition practices in least developed rural communities, combined with support on ASF production through poultry and fish interventions. Child and maternal dietary diversity will be assessed across seasons, with an emphasis on ASF consumption. In parallel, adapting and applying the Women’s Empowerment in Agriculture Index (WEAI), an internationally validated tool, will enable to assess if greater women’s decision-making power in agricultural domains is positively associated with child dietary outcomes. To support the interpretation of the WEAI results to the Timor-Leste idiosyncrasies, this investigation will examine Timorese notions of empowerment related to animal raising, and explore intra-household and gender dynamics that inform the production and allocation of food resources in general, and of ASF in particular.

As rural subsistence households consume most of their own production, diversity of crops grown and animals raised might contribute directly to dietary diversity and improved nutrition. To assess the relationship between dietary and production diversity, the variety of crops and animals produced will be monitored seasonally. It is hypothesised that both production diversity and women’s empowerment are important determinants of child dietary quality in rural subsistence households in Timor-Leste. The research findings will enable a better understanding of how nutrition-sensitive ASF programmes, such as livestock and aquaculture interventions, and integrated nutrition promotion strategies can maximise their dietary impact within Timorese agrarian livelihoods. 

This project is lead by Gianna Bonis-Profumo with co-supervision from Natasha Stacey (Charles Darwin University), Julie Brimblecombe (Menzies School of Health Research and Monash University), and Robyn Alders, AO (University of Sydney). It is co-funded by the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition (BCFN) through the BCFNYES! Award 2014, by CDU, and through an Australian Postgraduate Award Scholarship.

Gianna Bonis-Profumo's picture
Gianna Bonis-Profumo
PhD Candidate

Primary research group

Natural Resources-Based Livelihoods


MA Development Studies (Anthropology); Grad Dip Management of Non-Profit Organisations; BA Political Sciences