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January 24, 2019
Going Organic: From Farm-to-Fork in Vanuatu



By Catherine Wong, Programme Specialist of the SDG Fund

With their small populations, remote locations and long distances to markets, vulnerability to natural hazards, extreme weather events and climate change, the Pacific island countries face complex challenges in achieving the SDGs. While agriculture is a key source of growth and livelihoods for many developing countries, including the Pacific Small Island Developing States, agricultural runoffs - including fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides - are widely recognized as the largest nonpoint source of surface and groundwater pollution globally.

Eduardo Mansur, Director of FAO's Land and Water Division, and Claudia Sadoff, Director-General of International Water Management Institute, noted in a 2018 report:  "Agriculture is the single largest producer of wastewater, by volume … As land use has intensified, countries have greatly increased the use of synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and other inputs."  Organic agriculture has been recognized as a way to promote long-term agricultural sustainability, reduce pollution, promote soil conservation and climate change resilience of agriculture and livestock systems through effective eco-system management.


Monica tending to her plot, which, in addition to coffee arabica, includes taro, banana, cassava, kava, and sandalwood

A Pacific Small Island Developing State, Vanuatu is an archipelago, located in the “Pacific Ring of Fire” with a population of 270,000 spread across 65 inhabited islands. Agriculture and agro-food value chains, in particular, copra (the dried meat or kernel of the coconut), cocoa, kava, beef and coffee production are key drivers of the local rural economy and livelihoods. However, with the vulnerability of agriculture-based economies to external shocks, environmental sustainability and climate-smart agriculture are important to the courtry's food security and sustainable development.

Agricultural production in Vanuatu was devastated by Tropical Cyclone Pam in 2015. With wind speeds of up to 320 kilometers per hour, the Category 5 cyclone was one of the worst to make landfall in Vanuatu. An estimated 90% of subsistence crops were destroyed, along with 50% of shelters in Tanna island. The country’s total value of economic loss was estimated to be as high as 50% of the annual GDP. Likewise, volatile markets and the fall in the price of copra, a valuable cash crop, led to substantial losses for many farmers, who quickly switched to other cash crops. The collateral impact was felt also by the livestock sector. Copra meal, a byproduct of the sector that is typically sold as fodder to livestock farmers bringing in an additional revenue stream, which was once abundant in supply also dried up overnight.

 Many places in Vanuatu, including Tanna island, which is home to one of the most accessible active volcanoes in the world, fertile volcanic soils rich in nutrients, including nitrates and phosphates, mean that subsistence and smallholder farmers, with little means at their disposal, have traditionally cultivated crops and vegetables without the additional use of synthetic agrichemicals. However, slash-and-burn land-clearing methods practiced by many subsistence farmers in developing countries to temporarily boost soil fertility have had long term detrimental impacts on the environment resulting in soil erosion, deforestation and climate change events.

Organic certfied manioc/cassava flour and dry roasted peanuts from Tanna island

With technical assistance from programme partners, including Farm Support Association and POETCOM/SPC, the programme further promoted organic certification working together with Tanna Coffee, Lapita Café Vanuatu and Nasi Tuan. Semi-subsistent and smallholder farmers, including women and youth, were taught to intercrop with island cabbage, kava, maize, manioc, sandalwood and taro to help avoid the negative effects of monoculture/cash crop production, while allowing diversification in farming families’ diets, livelihoods and revenue streams.

Apart from the environmental benefits of organic production itself, organic certification can potentially offer greater access to new markets at home and abroad. Participatory Guarantee Systems are local network-based quality assurance systems, which, through the framework of a stakeholder structure that includes farmers and consumers, can provide a credible, accessible and cheaper alternative to third-party certification. Given the local cultivation practices, the programme was able to quickly operationalize participatory guarantee systems, by working with local socially responsible companies and also supporting the organic certification of product lines including coffee, dry roasted peanuts, and cassava flour to the Pacific Organic Standard. The programme thus effectively demonstrated the use of participatory guarantee systems in Vanuatu, under “Organic Pasifika” mark, with technical support and oversight provided by Farm Support Association, Vanuatu Organic Certification Committee and POETCOM/SPC.

The SDG Fund joint programme, “Youth in Organic Agriculture in Vanuatu”reached more than 3,000 semi-subsistent and smallholder farmers and provided access to tools and small pieces of equipment, including water tanks, wheel barrows, etc. The certification process promoted quality control among all programme partners, including local companies, NGOs and farmers, who recognized a holistic approach to agriculture over a focus on a single cash crop. The programme promoted South-South cooperation through knowledge sharing and exchange with Solomon Islands and scoping of new market opportunities in New Caledonia. While it is still early, programme partners have reported increased sales including to hotels in the “organic tourism” sector in Vanuatu and increased access to foreign markets, where organic certification is requisite.

Coffee seedling nursery with seedlings prepared by local women and youth. The shade will be gradually be removed and the seedlings then transplanted

Challenges in the sector include: lack of awareness of organic practices and products by the industry, government and general public; strict requirements and costs of certification; a three-year required transition period from conventional to organic production (during which “transition crops” cannot be certified); unscrupulous use of organic-branded marketing practices for non-organic products; and proliferation of providers of organic standards and certification.

The success of the SDG Fund joint programme and potential for replication and sustainability is evident as local companies, having seen the results, indicated that they will also seek organic certification for other product lines using their own resources and through the Participatory Guarantee System. The joint programme in Vanuatu has facilitated and strengthened linkages between the banks and UNCDF to ensure a robust exit strategy, promoting access to finance for those without access to banking services  and rural poor. Drawing from experience in the Caribbean SIDS, climate risk insurance for farmers will be piloted, combining the use of an SMS-based early warning system and satellite technolo gy for remote verification in case of losses due to extreme weather events; for smallholder farmers such “alternative collateral” can be accepted by financial institutions as leverage to access finance. At a national level, recognizing the importance of agricultural sustainability, the Government of Vanuatu will be one of the first in the region to promulgate its organics policy in early 2019 (TBC), closely aligned with the government’s established priorities on food security and healthy eating/prevention of Non-Communicable Diseases

The Programme

The SDG Fund joint programme, “Youth in organic agriculture in Vanuatu” was implemented by UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji together with UNCDF, Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community/Secretariat of the Pacific Community (POETCOM/SPC), Farm Support Association/ Syndicat Agricole et Pastoral de Vanuatu, Ministry of Agriculture - Government of Vanuatu, Vanuatu Organic Certification Committee, Tanna Coffee, Lapita Café Vanuatu and Nasi Tuan. It has helped promote the uptake of organic certification in Vanuatu through the formation of participatory guarantee systems.

For more information on the joint programme in Vanuatu please see here: http://www.sdgfund.org/youth-organic-agriculture-vanuatu

  

This article was written by Catherine Wong, SDG Fund; with inputs from Srijana Rana, UNDP; Ruci Yauvoli, UNDP; Donald Wouloseje, UNDP; Edwin Mensah, UNCDF; and George Bumseng, Farm Support Association/Syndicat Agricole et Pastoral de Vanuatu