Vanuatu agro-forestry boosts food security

| July 13, 2019

Vanuatu is made up of 82 islands and has a total population of 280,000. Approximately 70% of the population live in rural communities, and most are subsistence farmers who depend entirely on their farms for food and income.

Cyclone Pam hit the islands in 2015, badly damaging 80% of the country, particularly in the south. In the wake of the disaster, agroforestry was identified by Live & Learn Vanuatu and the Food Security Cluster as the best way to improve food security.

Agroforestry is an intensive land-use management system in which trees are grown amongst crops or in pastureland. Small island nations find the technique very useful, as it allows individuals to grow a variety of crops on the same piece of land and earn the same income as they would from two separate plots of land.

In 2016, the agroforestry approach was implemented in the two areas of Vanuatu most affected by the cyclone Shefa and Tafea. The idea behind it was to improve food security and create long-term income opportunities for farmers.

Live & Learn Vanuatu, a local non-government organisation, helped build several central and hub nurseries in the Shefa and Tafea provinces. The central nurseries were operated by two government departments (Agriculture & Rural Development, and Forests), whilst the hub nurseries were run by knowledge hub committees – groups of community members guided by government.

Seven priority communities were chosen to participate in the project, with each receiving financial support from Live & Learn and the government. Members of the knowledge hub committees worked tirelessly to make the hub nurseries functional during the El Nino dry season. In total, 50,325 trays of vegetable seedlings and 30,252 trays of tree seedlings were distributed across the seven priority areas, and 10,000 individuals benefited from the project.

With the nurseries up and running in all priority areas, demonstration plots were also established at each one, where communities could receive first-hand training on the different spacing and plant varieties integrated into the plot. They also learnt about a particular horticultural method called grafting where the tissues of one plant are joined to the roots of another, which creates a more cyclone-resistant plant.

For example, Vanuatu’s native lemon tree has proved to be more resilient to storms and natural disasters than the more common, introduced species, because it has a taproot that grows deeper into the ground. Participants in the agroforestry project were shown how to graft the wild lemon tree’s roots to the introduced lemon tree’s stem to create a more cyclone-resistance plant.

The introduction of carrots and broccoli was another important step towards food security in many communities in Vanuatu. For communities such as the Walavea, for example, who had never seen or grown a carrot before, it generated additional income. Community members expressed great pride in this achievement, adding that there was significant demand for these products after the first nursery trial. 

The Vanuatu project shows that agroforestry is a viable technique for small island nations in the Pacific to improve food security. It allows those with limited resources to grow their own food and even future building materials. With everything planted in one plot, labour requirements are reduced when compared to traditional farming systems.

Those in Vanuatu’s urban settlements can visit the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development and the Department of Forests for information about how they can engage in agroforestry techniques to end their food security worries.

This is an edited version of the article published in the 2018 CTA Report ‘Resilience and Productivity in the Pacific’, Experience Capitalization Series 7. 

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