Friday, 10 October 2014

Volunteering in Vanuatu

A year in Vanuatu as an Australian Volunteer for International Development (AVID) is a great opportunity to learn more about food security issues in the Pacific, meet unforgettable people, learn Bislama and climb many volcanoes.
I had the privilege of working with several NGOs, most notably Care International in Vanuatu and Adventist Development and Relief Agency Vanuatu, on food security projects across four islands—Araki, Efate, Futuna and Malakula.

Fitu, a gardener and weaver from Mission Bay, Futuna, presented me with a beautiful basket that she made as a farewell gift. Photo: Bronnie Anderson-Smith

In Araki and Malakula, I helped write and run nutrition training—learning a lot about the three food groups in the Pacific and also some insight into their language—givim poawa (carbohydrates), bildimap bodi (protein) and blokim sik (fruits and vegetables).

The workshops were attended by people of all ages, all eager to learn more about food and nutrition. We mapped out the incredible diversity of food available in the coastal and island communities, including food from the sea, river, forest, bush garden, home garden and the small store.

Even rural communities are seeing an influx of store food. Junk food, lollies, rice and noodles are contributing to the rise in non-communicable diseases. Participants were surprised to learn that these new ‘Western’ foods were less nutritious options than the food they farm, hunt or gather.

Farmers with produce from their home gardens used in the cooking classes. Photo: Bronnie Anderson-Smith
The hands-on cooking classes were especially popular. Dishes included chicken and fish soups and stir fries. People were keen to learn how to use some of the new vegetables they were now growing, such as carrots.
Vanuatu has three national languages, Bislama, English and French as well as over 110 Indigenous languages. Getting a handle on Bislama gave me the opportunity to work more effectively with colleagues, run trainings and develop resources.

I developed a ‘Climate Smart Agriculture Handbook’ for the Climate Change Adaptation Project in Futuna. The project is helping Futunese communities increase their resilience to climate change by working with them to improve their food security. The project includes climate smart agriculture, nutrition training and food preservation (using traditional techniques and solar food driers). The manual I developed focused on soil fertility strategies, organic pest and disease management, and planting and saving seed. Saving seed is a new skill required to grow the annual vegetables that have been introduced to diversify diets (propagation of traditional crops is mostly vegetative).

Ladies in Futuna with the recipe book I compiled. Photo: Bronnie Anderson-Smith

I also worked with a local NGO, Wan Smol Bag, to put together a recipe book with key messages on nutrition. These resources will continue to be used in Futuna and, as the project expands, to other islands in Tafea province.
Both resources were a hit, and it was fantastic to see people using them at the Agriclimaptation (Agriculture Climate Change Adaptation) Festival—the highlight of my year away.

Some of the weavers and judges from the weaving competition. Futuna is famous in Vanuatu for producing some of the finest weaving. Photo: Bronnie Anderson-Smith
The festival was the culmination of Care International in Vanuatu's climate change adaptation work on Futuna. It brought together all the communities on the island as well as guests from the provincial and national governments, NGOs and representatives from nearby islands. It was an incredible week celebrating local produce, custom dancing and music, garden tours, weaving and fishing as well as art, poetry and essays from the island’s students. Guests also ran several workshops on food preservation, seed saving, managing the crown-of-thorns starfish and much more.
Seeing the communities put the sustainable agriculture, food preservation and nutrition training into practice, with real pride and ownership of their new-found knowledge, was incredibly rewarding.

I played a very small part in these projects but I’m very grateful for the openness of my colleagues and the communities I had the privilege to work with, and for everything they taught me.

By Bronnie Anderson-Smith, recently returned Executive Officer for the Australian International Food Security Research Centre, ACIAR.



  1. loved your blog Bronnie am so pleased you have returned to ACIAR to share your knowledge and stories with us.

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