CANBERRA, Australia, October 13 (IPS) – Tuvalu, a small atoll island nation in the central Pacific Ocean, is one of the few countries in the world to have escaped the pandemic so far. But, despite having taken a milestone with no recorded cases of COVID-19, its population of around 11,931 continues to struggle with food uncertainties and poor nutrition. These challenges, present long before the onset of the pandemic, have been exacerbated by lockdown restrictions and economic hardship over the past year and a half.
In this low-lying island country, people struggled to grow food with “a lack of access to land, a lack of compost for growing food and, more so, with high tides and cyclones flooding in. seawater lands ”, Teuleala Manuella-Morris, Country Manager for the organization of the environment and development, Live and learn, in the capital, Funafuti, told IPS.
For years, islanders have seen their vegetable gardens destroyed by extreme tropical weather and disasters, such as cyclones and tidal waves. These factors have contributed to their increasing consumption of imported foods. But now the future looks more certain with the introduction of an innovative agricultural system on Funafala, an islet located near the main island of Funafuti.
The new cultivation method is based on a modular structure of specially designed boxes, called “food cubes”, which give local growers greater control over their crops.
“Tuvalu, as an atoll nation, faces a series of agricultural production challenges and is also dependent on imported food. The pandemic has also affected food supply chains. So, in view of these challenges, there has been a policy shift in trying to strengthen food security programs. In the meantime, we were already piloting the food cube system in Tuvalu. This fits perfectly with the change in policy direction for the country’s food security, ”Gibson Susumu, head of sustainable agriculture in the land resources division of the regional development organization, Pacific Community, who guides the implementation of the project, told IPS.
Problems of declining agricultural production and persistent malnutrition have existed in the Pacific Islands for decades. Before the 2019 pandemic, 49.6% of the Pacific population, estimated at 11.9 million people, suffered from moderate to severe food insecurity, reports the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Although stunting affects 10 percent of children under five in Tuvalu, which is well below the regional average, the country carries a heavy burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). Eighty percent of men and 83.8% of women were classified as overweight in Tuvalu in 2016, quotes the World Nutrition Report, while diabetes affects 23.1% of adults, according to the World Health Organization. health.
On Funafala, a vast set of interlocking boxes, raised above the ground, creates a patchwork field of abundance of green. The “field” contains 80 to 100 cubes spread over an area of 1.2 acres in which fruits and vegetables are grown for more than 16 local households. Each “food cube,” which is one square meter and 30 centimeters deep, is made from 80% recycled food-grade plastic and designed with features that expose plants grown indoors to oxygen and moisture. controlled irrigation.
“The Funafala garden has showcased the cultivation of local foods, such as pulaka (giant marsh taro), taro, local figs, cassava, dwarf bananas and dwarf papayas… It not only provides more food. to the community, but also proved that the Food cubes are another way to grow food in areas flooded with seawater while maintaining soil fertility for further planting. At the same time, it saves water, ”Manuella-Morris told IPS.
The “food cube” was designed and produced by Biofilta, an Australian company that developed modular urban farming systems six years ago. In 2017, the company won a global competition called LAUNCH Food, commissioned by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to recognize new solutions to the global problem of poor nutrition.
“To put it in a food security context, I think these food cubes will be able to produce up to 150 kilograms of vegetables and greens for a year, which is enough to meet the green vegetable needs of member households.” , said Susumu. .
Biofilta claims the system is “elevated, so there is no risk of salt water flooding, and our wick technology is extremely water efficient, using only a fraction of the water required to run it. ‘conventional agriculture’. These are important features because Tuvalu does not have renewable water resources and its highest point above sea level is only 5 meters. In addition, the farm uses compost, specially adapted to meet the needs of the country’s soil by the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which also uses ingredients from the island’s green waste treatment facility.
Another key partner, Live & Learn, has extended testing of the farming system to other islands in Tuvalu. The long-term goal is better health outcomes and a longer productive life for Islanders. “Due to the agricultural challenges, the diversity of the diet is very low… So, with the diversification of production systems, it means that households have more access to healthy food, and if the surpluses can be marketed, this also supports the income side of households, ”explained Susumu.
The Pacific Community also plans to consult with government, local communities and farmers to determine appropriate prices for the commercial sale of surplus fresh farm produce to keep healthy food affordable for all.
More broadly, the initiative responds to calls from organizations, such as FAO, to rethink food systems around the world so that smarter production leads to increased supplies of quality food, reduced pressure on resources. limited natural resources, such as land and water, and the lesser impact of agricultural practices on global warming.
The success of “food cubes” in Tuvalu has sparked enthusiasm in other Pacific island countries, such as the Cook Islands and Fiji, where it is also being tested.
© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service