Six Months On From Cyclone Pam
Vanuatu Organics Coffee Plantation Before and After Cylone Pam
Cyclone Pam was one of the worst natural disasters to hit Vanuatu in recent memory. The provinces of Shefa and Tafea were the most severely impacted with the livelihoods of 200,000 people affected. There are still reports of not enough adequate food being accessible to local communities.
For farmers working within Vanuatu’s rural and agricultural communities, the Cyclone has caused much disruption to the natural environment, food production and biodiversity. In Tanna, for example, farmers are facing a caterpillar epidemic due to the natural balance between beneficial insects and pests becoming out-of-sync.
As temperatures rise and climate change places more pressure on the environment, it is therefore critical to begin adopting alternative methods of farming, including organic production.
BioGro certified producer, François Japiot of Vanuatu Organics (BioGro No. 5428) believes organic production is the only sustainable option for sustaining the land for future generations.
“This is not the first or the last cyclone we will see in Vanuatu. But traditional organic farming systems take into account disasters like flooding. They are well adapted to climate conditions in the Pacific. That said, if you are farming exotic crops like coffee of cocoa it is more difficult to protect the crops and minimise the risk.”
Vanuatu Organics produces crops including coffee (parchment), sweet potato, papaya, nutmeg and citrus. This year they expected to harvest two tonnes of parchment coffee, but were only able to harvest 122 kilograms.
“We were due to start harvest on March 16 but Pam destroyed the plantation on March 13. Our Nangai Nuts Trees (Canarium Indicum) were also shredded. Harvest was ‘normally’ due to start in April, but this has been totally lost. Hopefully the trees will recover within a few years.”
Although Cyclone Pam’s destruction of plantations and crops has put considerable strain on many organic businesses, François’vision for the future remains confident. “I am positive. This is neither the first nor the last cyclone in the region. We can expect another harvest in three years' time. Agriculture in Vanuatu is recovering.”
Vanuatu Organics is one of eleven BioGro certified organic businesses currently operating in the Pacific.
BioGro is working closely with organisations in the Pacific to aid and support the ongoing recovery effort and minimise the impact on the organic community. One such partner organisation is the Farm Support Association (FSA) based in Port Villa.
How is the Farm Support Association supporting Vanuatu’s organics community?
The Farm Support Association (FSA) currently acts as the focal point for the Pacific’s Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom).
Jill Greenhalgh, Research and Information Advisor for FSA, notes that they support the organics community through information sharing and encouraging local producers to convert to organic production.
“We believe Cyclone Pam has provided an opportunity to help agricultural producers in Vanuatu to maintain organic practices instead of moving to non-organic practices to boost productivity.”
“Vanuatu’s population is growing and therefore placing increased pressure on the land. Also, as temperatures rise, more vegetables are being grown, while fallow periods are becoming shorter. There will be a subsequent increase in pests and diseases. Thus, farmers are likely to turn to synthetic pesticides to save their crops.”
“We believe it is important to be able to offer farmers organic solutions to their pest and disease issues, especially in the wake of the current situation.”
The Farm Support Association says the complete rebuild of Vanuatu will likely take a few years depending on future weather events.
Damaged coffee, cacao, spices and other perennial crops including fruit trees will take 2-3 years to return to full production. Vegetable and self-sufficient farmers are likely to get back to normal more quickly. However the Pacific is currently facing an El Nino summer season which may cause severe drought and delay recovery.
For both the Farm Support Association and BioGro, the main priority and focus now surrounds assisting smaller growers back to full productivity.
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