The agri-food production system in Baniata is diverse and consists of small-scale agriculture, agroforestry, wild food collection of flora and fauna, and fishing. Food is mainly grown in home gardens and collected wild (70 percent), and increasingly by purchasing imported and processed foods (30 percent). The variety of crops grown in Baniata has shifted due to changing preferences of the villagers, reliance on imported foods and climate change. Regeneration of home gardens through fallowing was practised more in the past, but due to land constraints and a growing population, fallowing is decreasing. All villagers sell agri-food products such as copra, and prepared food items such as masi masi for income, and most of them rely on these sales as their primary means of income generation. Income is spent on foods from the market, household goods, and school fees for children. The primary market is Munda, which is a 90-minute petrol-powered boat ride away. There are only two main boats, which can hold around 8 to 12 people. These boats are the primary means to access markets to sell agri-food, so villagers rotate turns so that all households get a chance to earn an income. Additionally, a market within the village primarily sells baked goods. Overall, the food system is becoming less reliant on traditional foods, and increasingly reliant on imported and processed foods.
Baniata and surrounding villages rely on the land for the majority of their sustenance. The village grows food organically and crops are primarily rain-fed. The agrobiodiversity of food production and availability is quite high, with over 127 food-providing species and their respective varieties and breeds for cultivation or collection from the wild. There is a wide diversity of root vegetables, bananas and leafy greens. Some varieties are local whilst others have been introduced to the community. Villagers use food scraps mostly to feed animals such as free-roaming chickens or pigs. The composting of food is not widely practised, and if foods were composted into a nutrient-rich soil amendment, this could enhance soil quality and fertility. Food is prepared and cooked using locally sourced firewood. Fishing was previously more sustainable, but now there are fewer restrictions on the size of catch – which is believed to reduce the amount of fish available for consumption.
Villagers feel the diversity of crops is decreasing due to reliance on imported and processed foods. Changes in market preferences, climate change and increasing pests are also dictating which crops are grown more frequently. Human waste management is not entirely sustainable, as villagers now use the beach as the primary waste area. This will likely be an increasing issue as the population continues to rise. Plastics litter the grounds and beaches due to mismanagement. Previously plastics were not widely used, but now since processed foods are increasing, plastic wrappers and waste are as well. Villagers feel the environmental conditions are decreasing because of plastic waste. Protection of land use remains stable, as land ownership on the individual level is not allowed. However, due to the increasing population, land for agri-food purposes is decreasing. Land is not able to fallow for long periods as it was in previous generations.
Overall, resilience has decreased over time, correlated with diminished reliance on homegrown and wild collected foods for the diet, and loss of knowledge of traditional recipes and ways of life in the Baniata community.
Both men and women agree that they want to maintain traditional foods and recipes and pass them down to future generations. However, villagers are concerned that if no intervention is made, they will see a continued reliance on highly processed unhealthy foods, and a decreased reliance on their local food system. Villagers state that rice will likely continue to replace traditional staple crops in local diets. These changes are decreasing the food sovereignty and food security by means of reducing access, utilization and stability of the food supply, affecting their quality of life and contributing to the rise of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.
Decreasing land fallowing and climate change lead to decreasing yields of crops. To improve yields, it will be imperative to employ improved crop rotation and composting techniques to return nutrients to the soil. Additionally, food preservation is not widely practised, which can put the villagers at risk when natural disasters strike. In the future, villagers predict local agrobiodiversity will continue to decrease if no intervention is made. The school curriculum does not include education on local foods. Men are slightly more optimistic than women regarding the preservation of local varieties of foods. Meanwhile, there is a strong consensus that the transmission of traditional knowledge is declining, such as wild collected foods, hunting and fishing techniques, and utilization of local plant species and varieties. In addition, the majority of villagers also feel that the documentation of traditional knowledge is severely lacking
When speaking to the villagers about traditional foods, there was strong pride in traditional varieties of crops and recipes. Children are aware of local foods and 75 percent of the children enjoy them, whilst 25 percent prefer processed foods. Twelve of the 13 children who participated in the discussions stated they want to take over their family farm in the future, they want to grow their own food, make money from copra, and ensure that their own children will have enough food to eat. Interestingly, children who had these aspirations did not attend school. Those who expressed interest in leaving had aspirations to achieve higher education and eventually return to the village with their families. Children also shared interest in local foods, although the older adults assumed they are disinterested. Leveraging this passion could be key to keeping these foods and traditions alive and vibrant within indigenous Solomon Islands’ communities.
Villagers are proud of their community and agri-food production. However their food system is rapidly changing due to internal and external pressures, resulting in rising levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. Baniata used to be fully self-sufficient, using the local sea- and landscape around the village. However, over the past 50 years, the community has become slowly integrated into wider markets, which is having positive and negative effects. Linking up with food systems beyond the immediate local food system of Baniata has increased access to new foods. Processed foods can be preserved and used during seasons of food insecurity. However, processed foods are also shifting diets toward lower quality, nutrient-poor foods, which leads to poorer health outcomes and decreases local agrobiodiversity.
Climate change is another big risk to their resilience and the community may not be prepared enough for it. Villagers need improved access to and sharing of climate-resilient seeds, planting materials and other adaptation strategies. Improved food preservation can also help prevent food insecurity during times of low food availability. Ensuring a sustainable food system for Baniata is essential for preventing the continued rise of malnutrition and local food system degradation.
“We are a welcoming community that works together, and we are proud of our baked ngali nuts.”Woman from the community in Baniata.