Growing traditional crops to strengthen disaster resilience on Solomon Islands

This content is in English.

The Anglican Church of Melanesia – a partner of ACT member Anglican Board of Missions (ABM) – ran a series of disaster resilience workshops on Savo Island which is a part of the Solomon Islands in Melanesia. Participants learned about the many advantages of traditional crops like taro, pana (breadfruit) and yam.  

Located 38km north of the Solomon Islands capital of Honiara in Oceania, South Pacific, Savo Island was one of many islands struck by Cyclone Harold in April 2020. The cyclone destroyed many homes and most of the local people’s food gardens of yam, pana and taro. In addition, the government State of Emergency declared at the onset of COVID-19 led to increased pressure in village communities from people returning home from Honiara and other large towns. Promoting backyard gardening as a way to prevent food shortages was a critical response to the double crisis of the cyclone and the pandemic.

When the Anglican Church of Melanesia (ACOM), ran a series of disaster resilience workshops on Savo Island from 29th September to 4th October 2020, the islanders were enthusiastic participants. The workshops were part of ACOM’s Disaster Management programme, funded by ABM. Backyard gardening was recommended as a way of enabling people to adapt to sudden-onset disasters and climate change. 

Plea for traditional crops

ACOM’s Casper Supa, an expert on disaster risk reduction, co-facilitated the workshops with the support from local agriculture experts. He noted that traditional crops like taro, pana and yam could be planted all year round and grow quickly in the volcanic soil. He said some introduced crops, like cassava and sweet potato, were less adaptable.

These benefits of traditional crops help to counteract some barriers to their use. Knowledge about traditional crops that were grown on the island has declined with the introduction of other crop varieties. Additionally, traditional crops often take longer before they can be harvested, leading people to plant crops which can be harvested within a short period of time.

Food preservation best adaptation

Some months after the workshops, Gladys Wendy of Paibeta Village, a mother of two who participated in the workshops, said that the islanders were now reviving their traditional food preservation practices to maintain food security during prolonged droughts, bad weather and the cyclone season.

Philemon Vagasi, a former officer with Central Island Province Ministry of Agriculture, observed: “The temperature level has increased significantly, and it has affected our food gardens and sources of drinking water. Our hope now for the upcoming cyclone season is to revive and maintain our traditional food preservation practices.”

Increased disaster preparedness

The workshops, run by ACOM in two separate locations on Savo Island, were attended by men and women of varied religious denominations. In addition to food security, the workshops introduced basic principles of disaster preparedness. They helped the local population to identify the main hazards (disaster threats) faced by their community and explained how to conduct initial damage assessments following a disaster. Those are vital for being able to make an effective and targeted response.

The communities on Savo Island also set up Village Disaster Management Committees, linked to both the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre (an outreach of the National Disaster Management Office) and ACOM’s own Disaster Management Committees. These committees put the church in a better position to respond to disasters through improved preparedness before disasters and improved coordination during and after disasters.

Highly affected by climate change

The people of the Solomon Islands are in the front line of climate change, as cyclones intensify, rainfall patterns become less predictable and coastal gardens are threatened by rising sea levels. These impacts in turn affect people’s food security, availability of fresh water and even their ability to keep living in certain parts of the country, leading to the potential for increased climate-induced migration.

ABM, together with ACOM and other partners, strengthens local resilience with workshops for the disaster committees on several islands. Apart from Savo, backyard gardening workshops supported by ABM were undertaken for women’s groups in urban areas especially in Honiara. The women were introduced to vegetables which can be harvested within a short period of time, saving people some of the high costs of local foods and vegetables at the markets.

Other environment projects

ACOM also supports “Environment Observatories” which enable local communities to collect their own environmental change data (temperature, rainfall, water levels, shoreline changes and extreme weather events) in four communities. They form the basis for evidence-based climate change adaptation and mitigation. In the process, they raise local awareness of environmental changes, and strengthen the likelihood of community-led advocacy. A “Green Apostle” was appointed to facilitate communication between the local communities and the research team based at the ACOM office in Honiara. This person is responsible for the data collection, supported by a team of trained local people.

“ABM and its partners do what we can to strengthen resilience”, says ABM’s Effectiveness and Learning Coordinator Terry Russell.

 

 

Workshop facilitators: retired Government Agriculture Officer Philemon Vagasi (left) with ACOM’s Casper Supa. Credit: Casper Supa


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