Samoa, Fiji, Niue, and Vanuatu account for about 25 percent of the land area and 28 percent of the threatened plant and animal species of the south-western edge of the Polynesia-Micronesia Biodiversity Hotspot. In recent years, FAO has been helping protect ecosystems here through the Forestry and Protected Area Management (FPAM) project, which operates under the Global Environment Facility Pacific Alliance for Sustainability (GEF-PAS). The FPAM project is designed to strengthen biodiversity conservation, reduce forest and land degradation, and enhance the sustainable livelihoods of local communities. As part of the project, three Community Conservation Areas were established in 2016 on the Samoan island of Savai’i aiming to protect unique highland cloud forests. Already, the investment is paying off for the environment and local farmers on Savai’i.
FAO is working with the Government of Samoa in supporting three Community Conservation Areas across eight villages on the island of Savai’i. The conservation areas aim to preserve biodiversity and maintain the ecosystem services of intact forest protected areas, mainly in the highlands. These highland forests – often referred to as cloud forests – are 600 metres or more above sea level.
Under the slogan “Healthy ecosystems, Healthy food, Healthy people”, FAO and its partners have set up demonstration farms to show famers how to increase productivity, promote sustainable agriculture in lowland forest ecosystems, and improve people’s diets, health and incomes.
The demonstration farms in the villages of Taga, Gataivai and Matautu use tunnel houses and a variety of different types of farm equipment and organic agricultural techniques. FAO is working in cooperation with the Samoa Farmers Association and Women in Business Development Incorporated in training farmers in sustainable land management techniques.
So far, more than 120 farmers have participated in training. Activities have included the application of agroforestry systems, compost preparation, green manure and crop rotation, organic pest management, contour planting and other measures to avoid soil erosion.
Women’s committee takes charge
In Taga, the demonstration farm is managed by the village women’s committee. Fruit and vegetable varieties on the farm include Chinese cabbage, eggplant, chilies, okra, lettuce, water spinach, papaya, water melon, green pepper, tomatoes and bananas. In addition, root crops such as taro varieties and yams have been distributed to the community, while fruit trees such as Tahitian lime and rambutan have also been planted.
The women’s group actively works on the demonstration farm, benefitting directly from the newly-learned techniques. Many of the participants apply the same knowledge on their own farms by using seedlings from the demonstration farm to produce a large variety of fruits and vegetables.
New methods and alternative crops that benefit families
Local Taga farmer Notoa Sione used to trek routinely to the highlands to plant taro. “Planting taro this way is time consuming and very hard work,” he says. He now has a farm made of several large plots close to the family home where he grows a variety of green vegetables, tomatoes, eggplant, chillies and cabbage, in addition to taro. He also supplies to vendors in the area.
Sione notes that, compared to taro, Chinese cabbage grows fast and has a high yield, resulting in higher income for him and his family. Grateful for the project and the knowledge and techniques he has learned, he has now established his own nurseries to grow seedlings for transplanting to his farm.
Lemalu Sami Lemalu, FAO’s FPAM Samoa Project Coordinator, explains that farmers plant taro in the highlands by clear-cutting the virgin forests, which grow on fertile soils. This farming method destroys both the forests and their capacity to retain and filter water. With the protective forest cover removed, soil erosion and flash floods disrupt the local water supply and lead to sedimentation of the protective reefs and negative impacts on fisheries.
The FPAM project has instead shown farmers ways of producing a variety of vegetables and fruits closer to home in the lowlands. These new ways not only contribute to farmers’ health and nutrition but also generate additional income. Importantly, they do so without destroying the highland forests that are vital for the island’s ecological balance.
Seeing positive growth and results
Since the start of the project in January 2016, farmers on Savai’i have already produced crops with an estimated value of US$115 000. Though the farmers consume much of the produce themselves, they have still managed to sell crops worth an impressive US$67 000.
Ultimately, they are both able to grow nutritious food in a sustainable manner and make a profit.
Establishing conservation areas in the Pacific
The FAO/GEF FPAM Project covers Samoa, Fiji, Niue, and Vanuatu. Its global environmental objective is to strengthen biodiversity conservation and reduce forest land degradation in these countries.
- Country Profile: Samoa