ENSO: El Niño & La Niña

El Niño 2015-16

The ENSO cycle has an important effect on the climate of Timor-Leste. During El Niño, less rain falls and the dry season is longer leading to a decrease in rainfall by around 17%. During La Niña, more rain falls and the wet season can be quite long leading to an increase in rainfall by around 19%.

During 2015-16, many countries around the Pacific will be working to cope with the impacts of El Niño. In Timor-Leste, SoL is working together with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries as well as other organisations to help farmers cope with El Niño. We are also monitoring the crop and rainfall situation to understand where farmers are in particular difficulty.

Advice to farmers

  1. Repair water systems including at the source, leaks along the line and turning off the tap.
  2. Prepare a tank or pond near the garden for extra water.
  3. During land preparation, cut the weeds down to make a mulch cover. This will reduce moisture loss from the soil.
  4. If possible, prepare more land in order to get adequate food because the yield may be less.
  5. Repair the fences because there’ll be more pressure from animals to get into the garden.
  6. When preparing to plant, ensure that the rainy season has started rather than planting on a false start to the wet season. Make sure to keep seed in reserve in case the first planting fails.
  7. Use good agriculture practices that you’ve been learning from MAF such as planting in rows, plant spacing (4 pl/m2) and using manure or micro dosing fertilizer.
  8. Plant varieties that are resilient to drought conditions. The MAF released variety Sele is known to still yield well with less rain. Root crops, such as cassava will also handle dry conditions better.
  9. Also plant a wide range of local varieties and other foods. Spreading the risk improves food security and it is also good for nutrition.
  10. Store food and next years seed in a secure, air tight container such as a 44 gallon drum so that it will not get weevils.

These messages were released in Tetun through the MAF Municipal offices. Download a copy here:  Avisu: El Nino Hahuu Ona!

El Nino Crop Monitoring: Situation Report – Every few weeks we  release an update of the situation across the country for rain, maize and rice. See the reports from October 2015


For more info and brochures in English and Tetun:

ENSO Infosheet, great for printing and distribution:  Tetun / English

The Impact of ENSO on Rainfall in Timor-Leste
This paper goes into more technical detail about the impact of El Niño and La Niña in Timor-Leste.  It is based on historical rainfall data from 1914 to 1974.  It includes results of research on rainfall in each of the District capitals, the change in the start of the wet season and the impact on crop production. (This is a conference paper presented at the Timor Leste Studies Association Conference in Dili, Timor-Leste, 2013.  It is still awaiting publication.  We have released it here in light of the possible 2014/15 El Niño event.)

A Brief Analysis of the Impact of ENSO
The ENSO cycle appears to affect different areas of East Timor in different ways. In some areas, such as Same, there is significantly increased rainfall during La Niña in the wet season. In Liquica, it seems the greatest impact is felt during the late dry season. This document contains a series of graphs showing how ENSO has historically affected each district.

La Nina 2010-12
This large report from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology shows just how significant ENSO can be. It is a special report on the impact of La nina from 2010 to 2012 in Australia. This event also had a significant impact on the weather in Timor Leste leading to flash flooding, failed crops and post-harvest losses due to difficulties in drying grain.

For the latest updates on where ENSO is at, head to the Australian Bureau of Meteorology website.

El Niño occurs due to the movement of warm ocean currents moving toward America. This leads to a difference in air pressure resulting in less rain for Timor Leste.

El nino TL

In La Niña, the warm ocean currents move towards the western pacific (more than usual). This leads to a difference in air pressure across the Pacific resulting in more rain for Timor Leste.

La nina TL

The cycle occurs every 3-5 years and can be forecasted a month or two in advance by monitoring indicators such as the Southern Oscillation index.

SOI graph from BOM 20120814

It’s important for farmers to be aware of this cycle and prepare for it with their cropping calendar.

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