Pacific Islanders Start Gardening during the Pandemic

    03 January 2021

    Islands in the Pacific Ocean have few coronavirus cases. But the pandemic has caused problems by interfering with supplies, causing price increases and a loss of business from foreign visitors.

    Many governments have started community projects to help their citizens with food shortages. They are extending fishing seasons, expanding food gathering training and supporting seed programs. These programs are helping residents to become more self-reliant.

    "We initially started with 5,000 seeds and thought we would finish them in nine months' time. But there was a very big response, and we finished distributing the seeds in one week," said Vinesh Kumar, head of operation for Fiji's Agriculture Ministry.

    Fiji's Ministry of Agriculture shows a vegetable garden at the Suva Christian School in Suva, Fiji, photo taken in July 2020 (Fiji Ministry of Agriculture via AP)
    Fiji's Ministry of Agriculture shows a vegetable garden at the Suva Christian School in Suva, Fiji, photo taken in July 2020 (Fiji Ministry of Agriculture via AP)

    The project provides people with vegetable seeds, small trees and basic farming equipment to help them grow their own home gardens.

    Elisabeta Waqa is a Fiji resident. She said she had thought about starting a garden before the global COVID-19 pandemic. But with no job, extra time at home and seeds from the ministry and friends, she finally took action.

    Looking to have "zero financial investment," Waqa collected whatever containers she could find to raise plants in. Soon her land had several containers with green beans, cucumber and cabbage growing in them.

    "When I started harvesting about two, three weeks later, that's when I realized: My gosh, this is a hobby people have had for so long. I thought about just how much money I could save by doing this," Waqa said.

    In many Pacific island countries and territories, people have moved from traditional agricultural work to the tourism industry. As a result, island people have become used to eating processed, imported food instead of the traditional locally grown foods like yams and taro.

    Eriko Hibi is the director of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Liaison Office in Japan. She called the change a "triple burden" of health issues: undernutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and obesity.

    When the pandemic started, many countries closed their borders. This affected supply lines for important products, including fertilizer and food. Shortages then caused prices to rise. In Suva, Fiji, the cost of some fresh fruits and vegetables rose by up to 75 percent during the first weeks of the pandemic.

    At the same time, tourism stopped. Hibi said tourism makes up to 70 percent of some countries' economies. Thousands were left unemployed. Hibi added that not only are there fewer products available, but people can buy less with the money they have.

    In Tuvalu, the government started teaching young people indigenous food production methods, such as taro planting and sap collection from coconut trees. In Fiji, the government extended the fishing season of coral trout and grouper that could be sold for income or used as food. Other governments want residents to move back to rural areas that had stronger independent food resources.

    Elisabeta Waqa has started to work at her job again. But she has taught her older children how to take care of the garden and harvest vegetables while she is at work.

    "Now I save money on food, know where my food is coming from and just feel more secure about having food," she said. "I don't want to go back to the way things were before."

    I'm Armen Kassabian.

    Victoria Milko from Associated Press reported this story. Armen Kassabian adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter,Jr. was the editor.

    Do people have limited access to quality food in your country? What solutions have you heard about or read about in your country? We want to hear from you. Write to us in the Comments Section.


    Words in This Story

    initially –adv. taking place at the beginning

    distribute –v. to give out

    resident –n. a person who lives in a particular place

    realize –v. to understand, to become aware of something

    tourism –n. the industry of providing services to people who visit a place for pleasure

    burden –n. something that is difficult to deal with

    deficiency –n. a lack of something that is needed

    obesity –n. a state of being overweight in an unhealthy way

    indigenous –adj. produced in or existing naturally in an area

    sap –n. the watery juice inside a plant