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Increasing Subsistence Yields Key to Sustainable Agriculture in Kiribati

sustainable agriculture in Kiribati

Kiribati is a Pacific coral atoll nation located close to Australia. An atoll is a ring-like island formed by the rim or border of the mouth of a former volcano which is now submerged in water. Atolls are an ideal habitat for colorful coral reefs, but on the other hand, only a small set of crops can flourish here. Hence, the pressing need for sustainable agriculture in Kiribati must be acknowledged.

Kiribati is one of the most impoverished and least developed countries in the world. Here, families largely depend on subsistence agriculture for survival and nutrition. Common crops are coconuts, pandanus, pumpkins, taro, breadfruit, banana, papaya and mango. Most food items are imported from other parts of the world.

Like several other small island nations, Kiribati is critically vulnerable to climate change and global warming. According to the New Yorker, experts believe that at the current pace of rising water levels, “there would be no Kiribati after 30 years”. Kiribati president Anote Tong told the New Yorker in 2013 that “according to the projections, within this century, the water will be higher than the highest point in our lands”.

In 2014, Tong finalized the purchase of a 20-square-kilometer stretch of land on Vanua Levu, one of the larger Fiji islands, 2,000 kilometers away. The move was described by Tong as an “absolute necessity” should the nation be completely submerged.

Developing sustainable agriculture in Kiribati could increase productivity, ensure food and income security, enhance the quality of life and create inclusive and equitable economic growth for everyone. Thankfully, Kiribati has access to financial aid and agricultural expertise. Global organizations and developed nations are offering their powerhouse of knowledge to assist with sustainable economic growth in the country. It receives $36 million in foreign aid, largely from Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan.

An agreement signed by Tong and the International Fund for Agricultural Development promises $7 million to promote activities to increase the household production of fruits, vegetables, poultry, root crops and tree crops. The agreement also aims to improve diets through the consumption of a higher proportion of calories and nutrients from local food crops. It will also implement ways to harvest rainwater to increase household water supply.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has designed and implemented several programs for farmer training and soil improvement in the area to enhance the production of coconut and banana. It has slowly and steadily phased out the senile coconut trees that comprised 40 percent of the entire plantation and replaced them with a new rodent-resistant variety.

In addition, by leveraging a novel narrow pit planting system and tissue culture technology, farmers have successfully increased the production of bananas and other fruits and vegetables. In partnership with the Timber and Forestry Training College at Papua New Guinea’s University of Technology, hundreds of farmers have been trained in nursery establishment and management, use of equipment and tissue culture technology, among others.

Needless to say, the future of sustainable agriculture in Kiribati looks hopeful and bright, just like the bright yellow sun rising above the ocean waves on its national flag.

– Himja Sethi

Photo: Flickr