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Vanuatu: Community Farms Helping Small Islands Adapt to Climate Change

Mala Silas is a gender equality program officer with CARE International in Vanuatu.

Mala Silas was involved in a project to help the people of Fotuna in Vanuatu build home gardens to bring them more food that can handle changing weather patterns and disease. Credit: CARE

PORT VILA, Vanuatu, Nov 15 2017 (IPS) - Here in Vanuatu, the ocean has been getting warmer and more acidic. Scientists are predicting that cyclone patterns will change, we’ll see heavier rainfalls, a wetter wet season and a drier dry season. We’re already seeing the sea rising six millimeters per year in the capital, Port Vila; higher than the global average.

For many people, the ocean rising by a few centimeters doesn’t sound like much, but for those of us living in small island nations like Vanuatu, it will mean the waves are rising higher than ever during storms; changes to where and how we get our food; and fishermen, farmers and growers face more uncertainty.

With world carbon emissions on the rise again after a three year hiatus, our future in Vanuatu is being compromised. The latest projections show that we are on track for a 3.2C rise in temperature by 2100 and sea level rise will be measured by the meters. UN assessments on the impacts for small island states, such as Vanuatu, show we are not ready.

Recently, I was on the island of Futuna, a place that, even by Vanuatu standards, is quite remote. There are no roads (just rugged footpaths) and only a couple of boats to get between communities. There’s little or no mobile reception and poor radio coverage.

People in Futuna mostly rely on the land and the ocean for their food, and their water comes from natural springs, which are a long walk from home. In dry times, water is harder to find, and in floods, the soil runs off the gardens, and with more erratic weather and a rising sea, the job of growing or gathering food is becoming tougher.

It’s particularly tough for women in Futuna; they are often isolated by cultural traditions that keep them at home and silent in community meetings.

With CARE, I was involved in a project to help the people of Futuna build home gardens to bring them more food that can handle changing weather patterns and diseases. Before the project, the people of Futuna mostly ate boiled fish and boiled cassava (a root vegetable common in the Pacific).

If they wanted to eat any other vegetables, they had to send money (which was, of course, hard to come by) to islands many hours away by boat. As well as helping to introduce these new, durable crops, CARE has run classes on food storage and cooking (using traditional and modern methods).

This means families on Futuna can have food all year-round, and they are no longer relying on just one or two types of food. Despite the cyclones that frequently pass across Vanuatu, the communities of Futuna are now much more resilient, because they know how to store and preserve food and protect the fresh water they have.

Many families on Futuna now have gardens next to their houses. They grow vegetables like cucumber, carrot and tomato. Jeannine Roberts, a mother of four from Futuna’s Mission Bay, told me that her children are now eating more and are much healthier, because they’re eating more than just boiled fish and cassava.

Children in Futuna learn about agriculture and nutrition in their school´s community garden. Credit: Daniel Vorbach/Oxfam

When I first arrived on Futuna a few years ago, I wouldn’t have seen a woman stand up or speak during a community meeting; they were too shy and didn’t seem comfortable getting involved. When I now go back to Futuna, I can see the progress that’s been made.

Seeing the women standing up to talk – even challenging the men – was something very special. These inspiring women have plenty of knowledge about their local environment, gardens and households, and I feel lucky to be working with them to improve their lives and break down many cultural and social barriers.

Futuna is just one small island among hundreds across Vanuatu and hundreds of thousands across the Pacific. But the progress there – achieved through teamwork and giving women a voice – is a great example of what can be achieved in the face of a changing planet.

This article is part of a series about the activists and communities of the Pacific who are responding to the effects of climate change. Leaders from climate and social justice movements from around the world will meet in Suva, Fiji from 4-8 December for International Civil Society Week.

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