Settled in the South Pacific between New Zealand and Hawaii, Samoa is a tropical Polynesian island country known for its crystal-clear waters and stunning beaches. However, increasing land degradation and drought threaten the future of Samoa’s inhabitants, posing a serious threat to the food, water and energy security of Samoa’s population. The Strengthening Multi-Sectoral Management of Critical Landscapes (SMSMCL) project establishes sustainable land management to combat degradation and improve agricultural and forest land quality. In particular, the project focuses on shifting Samoa’s farms from mono-cropping to mixed-use, as well as introducing resilient crops.
The History of Land Degradation in Samoa
Climate change, deforestation and agricultural expansion have resulted in extensive vegetation and forest deterioration. Additionally, as part of the Samoan government’s initiative to increase exports in the 1970s, many forests were cleared to make way for agricultural land. The intensive farming of crop commodities like coconut, taro, bananas and cocoa robbed Samoa’s soil of key nutrients and threatened the health of the agricultural sector. Agriculture accounts for 90% of Samoa’s exports and makes up a significant portion of the nation’s GDP, although profits rarely return to local communities. Land degradation affects the livelihoods of small-village and farming communities. As land resource insecurity rises, communities fear that future generations will be left with little to no development opportunities.
The SMSMCL Project
The Strengthening Multi-Sectoral Management of Critical Landscapes (SMSMCL) Project works to counter the land degradation problem by introducing sustainable land management strategies that improve food, water and energy security in Samoa. Funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and implemented by the Government of Samoa, the project works to protect and sustainably manage productive landscapes from 2013-2018 in an effort to reduce poverty and combat the effects of climate change.
The SMSMCL Project takes a multifaceted approach to solving the problem. It encourages the use of nitrogen-rich plants like legumes to restore nutrients in critical landscapes and introduces climate-resilient food and tree crops to withstand environmental fluctuations. In addition, the project encourages a shift from mono-cropping to mixed-cropping. In the past, most of Samoa’s agricultural lands only cultivated traditional crops such as taro, a starchy root vegetable. The mono-cropping of taro deteriorated soil health, and the reliance on the crop devastated Samoa’s agricultural industry during a taro-leaf blight of the 1990s. By diversifying traditional food crops, the SMSMCL project improves agricultural productivity and strengthens crop resilience to prevent infectious crop diseases from devastating farmers’ livelihoods.
The SMSMCL Project involves village communities in every step of the process to educate Samoans on sustainable land and water management. Farmers, community organizations, students and church groups have responded enthusiastically to embrace sustainable land-management practices and encourage nature conservation.
Already, 126 villages throughout Samoa have benefited from the Strengthening Multi-Sectoral Management of Critical Landscapes project, and over 16,760 hectares of agricultural and forest land have been restored. Embracing sustainable land management strategies has improved the food security of Samoa’s population, helping communities cultivate their lands efficiently and secure opportunities for future generations.
– Claire Brenner