Growing nutritious food has become increasingly challenging in the small coral atoll of Tuvalu. More frequent severe weather, soil and water salinity, higher temperatures and variable rainfall is devastating crops and livelihoods.
With Tuvalu’s food security at risk, the Australian Government has launched an innovative new project to produce healthy food in small spaces through establishing highly productive, water-efficient food gardens.
Using the Foodcube – a modular wicking gardening system – developed under the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Innovation Xchange program and soil compost research from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), the project will bring together key national and regional players to help atoll communities grow their own food.
The project commenced this week with a five-day soil health clinic training program with agricultural specialists who are working closely with extension workers and offering farmers advice on how to manage soil-health related problems.
The Australian High Commissioner to Tuvalu, Ms. Karyn Murray said the training programme taking place this week is a great example of project collaboration and multi-dimensional learning.
“Under the Tuvalu Food Futures project, we’re focusing on building local food production systems, increasing nutritional awareness and exploring opportunities for market distribution,” Ms Murray said.
“We are pleased to be partnering with the Ministry of Agriculture, Funafuti Island Council, Live & Learn Tuvalu, and leading regional and Australian research institutions on this endeavour.”
To ensure the project’s food production is sustainable, the soil nutrient status is critical. ACIAR’s Research Program Manager for Soil and Land Management, Dr James Quilty said the composts help overcome the constraints to crop production caused by the low nutrient status of atoll soils.
Through years of ACIAR-funded research, special compost recipes have been developed which use biomass that is readily available on Tuvalu to create composts that meet the nutritional requirements of local vegetable crops.
“This training will help to ensure that the composts being produced are effective in supporting crop production in the Foodcube systems,” Dr Quilty added.
Tuvaluan Agricultural extension officers from eight islands took part in the first phase of the training to upgrade their skills and knowledge related to soil health and socio-economic practices to support livelihoods and food and nutrition security of atoll communities.
Senior Agricultural Officer with the Tuvalu Ministry of Agriculture, Matio Lonalona said the training was a valuable opportunity to learn and share experiences around compost production, seed management, pest and disease control and soil and water management approaches.
In addition to providing technical support on infrastructure that is supporting the production of the composts, the training aims to improve understanding on soil health and soil functions through awareness and demonstration of research results with hands on training on trial design and soil analysis and interpretation.
The training was overseen by the Tuvalu Department of Agriculture and delivered by the Pacific Community (SPC), Australia’s national science agency (CSIRO), and the University of Tasmania soil scientists.