|Atolls like Kiribati may look appealing to visitors, but achieving food security |
can present a serious challenge to the inhabitants, especially in the face of climate change
The threat posed by climate change to food security and livelihoods in the Pacific islands has been widely recognized - and indeed dramatised by the prospect that some islands may actually disappear as sea levels rise. However, there is a wider and more insidious threat to local food production in this region: the loss of soil and soil fertility. Although horticulture has been a mainstay of Pacific island communities for thousands of years, the threat to soils is mainly of recent origin, arising from population growth, deforestation and the intensification of crop production for commercial purposes – and there is little traditional knowledge to help farmers deal with these new circumstances. The loss of soil threatens not only the productivity of crops but also, through run-off into the sea, damages the coral reefs on which island communities largely depend for their protein.
|Kiribati men shred cardboard cartons and women collect fresh leaves |
(in background) to combine with pig manure to make compost
Increases in cash income and urbanisation have led to a deterioration in the diet, with increasing importation and consumption of white rice, wheat flour and sugar, as well as fatty meats and oils, leading to a catastrophic rise in non-communicable diseases, particularly heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
Improving the productivity of horticulture faces a number of challenges. Soils in the atolls tend to be shallow, sandy or rocky, exceedingly alkaline, and low in organic matter (leading to low retention of water and nutrients). Intermittent droughts and incursions of sea water make matters worse. The lack of surface water, and the risk of contaminating the limited groundwater beneath the islands with agrochemicals adds a further complication. In Kiribati, this threat to drinking water supplies has led to a ban on all synthetic fertilisers and pesticides.
|A Kiribati community group established by the project |
visits one another's compounds weekly to make compost
and see how their vegetables are growing
|The 'fruits' of their labour: prize cabbages|
|Project staff visit a successful Kiribati 'commercial' farmer - his relatively |
substantial house was financed largely from selling vegetables
|An innovative farmer prepares his compost in underground pits |
(probably retaining more of the organic matter and nutrients than conventional
composting). His son chews a Pandanus fruit, rich in carotenoids.
By Dr Richard Markham, Research Program Manager for Pacific Crops
(All photos also courtesy of Richard)
Project PC/2009/003 Improving soil health in support of sustainable development in the Pacific
Medium-term research strategy for Kiribati