Sustainable Agriculture in Vanuatu in the Wake of Tropical Cyclone Pam

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SEATTLE — Vanuatu is an island archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. The nation’s economy is based largely on its agriculture and tourism sectors, both of which were decimated by Tropical Cyclone (TC) Pam in 2015.

Pre-Pam, the developing country was already implementing strategies to combat climate-driven hardships of drought and unreliable rains. In the march toward sustainable agriculture in Vanuatu, the nation must continue the recovery from TC Pam’s staggering disruption while remaining focused on the goals of the 2030 Agenda.[hr_invisible]

Aid in Crop Recovery

The island nation produces taro, yam, kumara (sweet potato), cassava, bananas, coconuts and a variety of other fruits and vegetables. These local crops, as well as small livestock and fisheries, are essential to the local economy, as 80 percent of its citizens are village-dwellers relying on sustainable agriculture in Vanuatu. When TC Pam destroyed an astonishing 96 percent of the nation’s crops, the country of Belgium stepped in, becoming a first responder of sorts. Belgium’s $285,000 contribution to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations allowed recovery work to begin right away.

The FAO started by distributing vegetable seeds to rural families and school communities to regrow gardens. Seeds were also dispersed throughout the capital city of Port Vila to establish urban gardens, meeting the needs of thousands of citizens.

The Belgium-FAO partnership continued in the months after TC Pam. The collaboration made possible Yumi Kam Tugeta (We Come Together) sessions, where citizens received simple and creative recipes and cooking ideas from area chefs, food preservation training, in which farmers learned techniques to store food in preparation for disasters, and provisions for sandalwood, whitewood and mahogany tree seedlings and training for re-growing trees and forest re-establishment.[hr_invisible]

Drought-Resistant Crops

Even before TC Pam, researchers were cross-breeding varieties of sweet potato in response to the climate-driven changes in growing conditions.

Vanuatu depends on the hearty sweet potato because of the crop’s relative resistance to weather extremes, diseases and pests. But rising temperatures and carbon dioxide levels were already taking their toll on the once-reliable crop, and experts from the Ministry of Agriculture in Vanuatu acted to develop hybrids using sweet potatoes from surrounding regions of Fiji and the Solomon Islands and blending them with different Vanuatu varieties. Their goal was to create a breed that could withstand impending drought conditions brought by climate change, as well as impending and inevitable El Nino effects.

Though work was wiped out by TC Pam and researchers had to begin again, new greenhouses were constructed, growing resumed and scientists developed several new varieties. When a successful sweet potato breed is cultivated after a three-month process, it is sent out to farmers to test for taste and their own preferences. After that, the potato is distributed for the farmers’ local and commercial use.

Drought-resistant sweet potatoes are a milestone toward sustainable agriculture in Vanuatu, as the success with one crop opens doors for others.[hr_invisible]

Partnerships for Youth in Agriculture

The effects of TC Pam extend to all demographics of Vanuatu, including its young citizens. Currently, a high unemployment rate among Vanuatu’s youth and the nation’s reliance on agricultural imports are addressed simultaneously through a Sustainable Development Goals Fund project.

The project is led by the United Nations Development Programme, the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the government of Vanuatu. The project focuses on vulnerable youth – young people who have not completed their education and may be faced with little to no work prospects – through four main objectives:

  1. To create employment opportunities in organic agriculture through partnerships in the agriculture and tourism sectors.
  2. To increase engagement through training, knowledge sharing and youth employment, especially through the development of processing facilities in the region.
  3. To strengthen the capacity of local organizations to support youth in organic agriculture, especially the Vanuatu National Youth Council.
  4. To share information throughout the Pacific region, creating networks and value chains within the agriculture sector and increasing employment opportunities throughout.

The island nation of Vanuatu can rely on its own resolve to continue recovery from TC Pam. Coupling that resolve with aid from strong partnerships, the nation can surpass recovery goals and forge ahead toward sustainable agriculture in Vanuatu.

– Jaymie Greenway

Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Jaymie Greenway

Jaymie lives in Rolla, MO. Her academic interests include biology, geology, and communication/technical communication. Jaymie is a business owner, pop culture junkie, amateur event organizer and lover of Motown who pines for weeks-long road trips with her family.

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