SEATTLE — Samoa lies in the South Pacific Ocean within Polynesia, only 80 miles west of American Samoa. The country may only be home to a population of 195,000, but to these citizens agriculture is vital. Agriculture is responsible for two-fifths of the total GDP and two-thirds of the country’s workforce. To create a trend of sustainable agriculture in Samoa, the government and its citizens have joined forces.
Agriculture is central to Samoan life, yet the environment makes things slightly more difficult for Samoan citizens. Typhoons have been a continuous problem for agriculture in the country, but were especially so in the 1990s. Typhoons in this era caused widespread damage, specifically to the taro crop which had already been damaged by a taro leaf blight.
Currently, climate change is a very serious threat to the country, as 70 percent of the population and infrastructure are found in low-lying coastal areas. Rising sea levels have exacerbated coastal erosion, property destruction and the displacement of citizens. Sustainable agriculture efforts work to address these environmental setbacks.
Although so many Samoans are involved in agriculture, many goods are still important as production does not meet the population’s demands and practices have not led to sustainability. This is largely due to the lack of variety of major crops grown here. These include coconuts, taro, pineapples, mangoes and other fruits. To tourists, these uniquely tropical crops are just what they would imagine, but they are not enough for the people of Samoa. Also contributing to insufficient agriculture is the fact that 60 percent of the country is forested.
Forests are vital to sustainable agriculture in Samoa. They provide protection from soil erosion and flood damage as well as acting as a carbon sink to trap greenhouse gases and combat climate change. The forests also provide crucial products such as food, medicine and timber. Many of the country’s sustainability projects are focused around these forested areas.
The Forestry Protected Area Management project, supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, has been working with the Samoan government towards biodiversity conservation, forest and land degradation reduction and creating sustainable community livelihoods. Demonstration farms have been set up in three villages to show sustainable practices including using different types of farm equipment and organic agriculture techniques.
More than 120 farmers have participated in these demonstrations. With the help of this project, three conservation areas have been set up in Samoan forests and farmers have adopted sustainable practices that have allowed them to produce enough goods to support themselves and create a profit. Women were crucial in this project and have continued to lead sustainability projects within the country.
One of the demonstration farms was entirely managed by the women’s committee and they have also learned and benefitted from the techniques taught here. In addition to this project, the organization Women in Business Development has worked to promote sustainability within the country. The organization has built organic systems with over 700 Samoan families according to standards set by the National Association for Sustainable Agriculture Australia. This has created sustainable livelihoods and relationships for women in Samoa.
Samoa may be a small island nation that faces many risks, but the Samoan people are actively working towards making their country sustainable. Sustainable agriculture in Samoa will only continue to grow as the people and their government work together to create a secure future.
– Megan Burtis