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3. The Impact of Policies on Household Livelihood and Food Security

Food security has not traditionally been regarded as an area of concern in Pacific Island populations. In normal times food is plentiful and it is only in times of crisis, such as in the months following a cyclone, that measures have to be taken to ensure that food is available to those in need. Whilst this paper is not concerned with such times of crisis, it is noted that a population that is food secure in normal times will be better able to cope with food insecurity during crisis periods.

National food balance data for Fiji and Papua New Guinea show that the availability of food exceeds national requirements (defined as desirable energy intake needed for work and leisure and calculated on reference weights for the population) by a considerable margin (see Table 1). Since food availability in other Pacific Islands (with the possible exception of Solomon Islands) is commensurate with Fiji and Papua New Guinea, it can be surmised that food requirements are also more than adequately met in other Pacific Island populations.

Table 1: Daily per Capita Food Availability in Kilocalories as a Percentage of Requirements (1990-92)8


Food Availability

Food Requirement

Percent Availability

Cook Islands








Papua New Guinea




Solomon Islands
















Whilst food security might be achieved at the national level, accessibility to food differs between households (and indeed between individuals within households), such that household food security is not universal. Policies in agriculture, fisheries, forestry, natural resource management and rural development clearly have an impact on livelihood and food security. The nature of this impact is considered below for the three countries studied.

3.1 Fiji

In Fiji, food security has been a long-term concern. Despite this, a recent study on poverty (Government of Fiji and UNDP, 1997) found that 33 percent of the population were living in relative poverty and 10 percent of households could not afford a basic diet. One reason for this is the past concentration on cash crops in the rural economy, with the result that there has been an overall reduction in the quantity and quality of food crops produced for household consumption. Available cash is spent on imported cereals, canned foods and vegetables. Other indications of an inequitable distribution of food are seen in the deteriorating national health situation with respect to non-communicable diseases.

At the World Food Summit in November 1996, the Fijian Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forests indicated that Fiji remains committed to providing an environment conducive to attaining food security for all its citizens. During the 1980s, the aim was to achieve food security through protective policies, though this did not prevent the decline in household food production. More recently, the approach to food security has been changed to encompass an export-led agricultural policy in line with the overall emphasis on an export-led economy. The development of agricultural exports is seen as providing income-generating activities whilst at the same time improving food security. In particular, food accessibility and affordability is to be improved through consistency and quality of supply, which export-oriented production is intended to foster. In addition, an expanded export market is expected to generate a surplus for the domestic market, which in turn is necessary to absorb lower-quality produce and provide economic viability. Since most exported produce is grown by smallholders with 1-10 acres of land, this policy will benefit most producers. At the same time, the presence of larger farms producing for the same market, but with improved efficiency through mechanisation, ensures supply and hence keeps prices down. Prices are also kept down by larger plantings, now possible due to the existence of a larger local market and an expanding export market.

Whilst this export-led approach to food security has many positive aspects, reservations have been expressed. The approach does not cater for very small farmers with less than one acre, many of whom are the rural poor and women. Whilst the rural poor may benefit from cheaper food prices, they will also suffer in that their own produce will not generate much income especially as gluts are likely to occur on the local market due to the larger scale of production for export. In addition, agricultural services will be less and less suitable for their needs.

Despite ministerial statements, food security does not enjoy explicit policy status and resources are not allocated to food security per se. Policies that have some relevance for food security are those in agriculture and in health. However the former do not address the links to food security, either explicitly or implicitly, and the latter are concerned with curative measures rather than prevention of nutrition related diseases such as diabetes.

The National Food and Nutrition Committee advises the Government on matters relating to food and nutrition. The draft Fiji Plan of Action for Nutrition (Fiji National Food and Nutrition Committee, 1996) promotes food security through, amongst others, improved availability and accessibility, increased production and consumption of local foods and increased acreage of agricultural land devoted to food crops. It also promotes family food production through backyard food gardens, community-based food production and food-processing enterprises, diversification of farming practices to strengthen home food production, and household food processing and preservation. The lack of resources allocated to food security is evident in the fact that the backyard gardening activities are to be implemented through women's organizations, whilst the remaining activities are to be implemented by the Department of Agriculture.

Improvements in food security are occurring as a result of marketing developments. The emergence of urban squatter settlements, housing poor rural to urban migrants, has resulted in some squatters developing `middleperson' roles, in which they buy basic foodstuffs from rural farmers to sell in stalls in squatter areas. Since squatter settlements are found in various locations in Suva, this has improved food distribution and alleviated farmers of the need to go to, and spend time selling at, the central Suva market. This development also provides livelihood security for the squatters concerned and increases the productivity of farmers. Further marketing developments include packaging to reduce the time that women spend selling their produce at the market and to reduce food spoilage. Packaging also provides employment for women and increases farmer productivity.

3.2 Vanuatu

Food security has featured relatively prominently in Vanuatu's recent development policies. One of the two key objectives of the Third National Development Plan 1992-1996 (DP3) is to expand the agricultural and natural resources sector in a sustainable manner so as to provide domestic employment, income generation opportunities, domestic food security and export revenue. In particular, DP3 focused on the development of subsistence farming and gardening, with special emphasis on enhancing women's agricultural activities and welfare, diversifying cash crops particularly coconut, and improving market development for exports. However, food security and women's role in agriculture feature less prominently in the new Comprehensive Reform Programme for Agriculture which emphasises increased smallholder commercialisation, agro-industries and small-scale export enterprises, and import-substitution industries, particularly food-processing.

Given the pivotal role of women in agricultural production, policies to address food security must address women's agricultural role. This was recognised in DP3, but in practice was found to be difficult to implement because of the low status of women and the existence of cultural norms. Development in this area is slow and will be a major constraint to the implementation of policies aimed at improving agricultural production. Thus, the Women's National Plan of Action (Vanuatu Department of Women's Affairs, 1995) calls for the recognition, promotion and support of women's participation in agriculture and fishing, both paid and unpaid activities, in recognition of women's role in food security.

The Women's National Plan of Action also identifies poverty arising from a breakdown of effective traditional and customary support systems as an area of concern. The increasing burden of women's multiple roles are compounded in areas where water and firewood now have to be carried longer distances due to environmental degradation. A consequence is that women have less time for agriculture resulting in decreased productivity, increased poverty and diminished food security.

Vanuatu's National Food and Nutrition Policy was approved in 1986. Its overall objective is to ensure the nutritional well-being of the total population and increased self-sufficiency in food. To achieve this, three priority objectives were identified: i) to prevent and reduce the prevalence of under-nutrition in vulnerable groups; ii) to prevent an increase in the prevalence of nutrition related non-communicable diseases; and iii) to improve food security. The more recent Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition for 1997-2001 (Government of Vanuatu, 1996), formulated following the International Conference on Nutrition in 1992, expands these objectives to include increased food self-sufficiency and reduced dependence on imported foods and beverages, particularly those that induce nutrition related disorders.

The Plan of Action for Food and Nutrition includes a National Household Food Security Development Plan, developed jointly by the Department of Agriculture and Horticulture and the National Food and Nutrition Committee. Project activities under this plan await resources for implementation. Priority is to be given in the first instance to urban areas, where home food production is to be promoted and extension services (including technical assistance and inputs) provided. This plan also calls for the institution of agricultural policies that promote food production, and the review of tariffs imposed on imported foods, which play a crucial role in ensuring household food security among urban dwellers. The need for income-generating activities and a minimum wage policy is also recognised. Strategies for rural areas include production of less land demanding cash crops, intercropping, and maximisation of available land that has already been cleared. Some training in horticulture is already being provided in urban areas by an NGO.

3.3 Samoa

At the national level, food security is not an issue of concern in Samoa. However, relative poverty and food insecurity exist at the household and intrahousehold levels. Youth and some economically disadvantaged households in urban and peri-urban areas are at particular risk. Malnutrition is a significant health problem. In adults this takes the form of over-nutrition with obesity, hypertension and diabetes, whereas in children it takes the form of micro-nutrient deficiencies and protein-energy under-nutrition, especially in infants. Iron deficiency anaemia also occurs in children and in pregnant and lactating women. The promotion of home gardens and nutrition education should help to overcome malnutrition problems, especially since part of the problem appears to stem from a lack of nutritional knowledge.

In Samoa there is increasing dependence on imported food, the value of which now exceeds the value of all exports. This trend is likely to continue under the current economic strategy. Indeed one of the most likely outcomes of this strategy, according to expert consensus, is an "increased monetisation of the agriculture sector and increased dependency on cheap imported foods" (Government of Samoa, 1996:14). The fact that most people cannot afford the `cheap' foods currently imported indicates that food security will further deteriorate. Furthermore, cheap imported foods include foods such as mutton flaps and turkey tails which are nutritionally inferior to local sources of protein.

The National Food and Nutrition Policy (Samoa National Food and Nutrition Council, 1995) includes, as one of four overall objectives, the achievement of environmentally sound and socially sustainable development to contribute to improved nutrition and health. Amongst the specific objectives is a reduction in the reliance on imported food through increased production of local foods, especially foods of high nutritional value, and the improvement of national and household food security. Home gardening is also promoted. MAFFM also promotes the production and consumption of local foods in co-operation with the National Food and Nutrition Council.

By the year 2010, the Government aims to: eliminate moderate and severe protein-energy malnutrition; stabilise and/or reduce to below 1991 levels the incidence of diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease; reduce by 20 percent present infant, child and maternal mortality rates; reduce the incidence of nutritional anaemia among 1-5 year olds and pregnant and lactating women; and increase breast-feeding of infants.

8 Source: FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific, Selected Indicators of Food and Agriculture Development in the Asia-Pacific Region, 1983-1993. Bangkok, 1994.

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