Tokatoka Farms Help Arrest Land Wastage, Build Resilience and Food Security Post Cyclone Winston in Fiji

Jun 16, 2016

A farmer in Vatawai village of Yakete district volunteers his time on the Tokatoka communal Farm (Photo: UNDP/Kumar M Tiku)

By Kumar M Tiku

Yakete, Ba Province, FijiWhatever happened to the good old practice of growing multiple crops in a year? As Tropical Cyclone Winston robbed a third of the Fijian farmers of their once-assured incomes from the time-tested bundle of root crops such as Yaqona, Cassava and Dalo, a group of villages in the western division have stepped up efforts to reclaim traditional farming practices for working their lands throughout the year for short, mid and long-duration yields. 

 “Our grand-parents used to farm using the crop-rotation methods. Somewhere along the way, that gave way to mono-cropping. Now we want to be smart farmers again”, says Livai Tora, a well-known agriculturalist in the region who is currently advising the pilot initiative. “If this new cropping effort turns out to be a success, we want them to replicate the same practice”, he adds.

The local ‘tokatoka’ farms set up by the Yakete Development Committee are part of the initiative to arrest land degradation in seven villages of Yakete district in Ba province. The pilot project receives financial assistance from the Small Grants Programme (SGP) of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The tokatoka concept of farming was introduced in the village as a response to the large-scale losses to the mandarin and cassava crops that perished following the Category 5 cyclone that swept across Fiji in February.  

Pauliasi Sokia, 64, and a member of the district development committee from Vatawai village says, “Prior to the cyclone, the farms where we grew our cash crops provided us a steady and predictable supply of income. We were at ease. Everything was in abundance. Now, there is nothing at all. The cyclone came and uprooted not just our crops but our very existence, and our peace of mind”. 

Sokia notes that Cyclone Winston only made the bad situation worse. “Mono-cropping was taking us nowhere. For one, the sugarcane farming is no longer very attractive. Close to seventy percent of what is earned on this crop is spent on transportation. Add to that the labour and input costs and the farmers were left with little or no income”, he says. 

Back in time, to stave off extreme weather events and to provide for sustained food security, the farmers used to plant several different crops throughout the year but somehow that practice was lost in the recent years. “We are back to the same practice again”, says Sokia.

FarmerFarmers in Navilawa village of Yakete district survey a plot of degraded land that is being made ready for a Tokatoka farm. (Photo: UNDP/Kumar M Tiku)

In Navilawa village, Ananaiasa, 42, a farmer says that he has learnt the hard way that he should make use of his land optimally. Ananaiasa is part of the village volunteer farmers that have invested of time and energy in the tokatoka farm, a pilot initiative to demonstrate the value of multiple cropping. It is a renewed effort to connect back with traditional cropping practices that have gone out of fashion. And one that comes with the promise of placing more farm yield and income in the hands of small farmers. 

“Intercropping is new to our area. Perhaps it existed before. But we are learning anew. For now, we have grown short term crops on the Tokatoka farm – tomatoes, baingan, paw-paw and oranges. Greens such as tomatoes, eggplant, cabbage, chilies and fruits like paw-paw will grow as quickly as three months. Then it will be the time for growing Vanilla that is harvested in six to seven months and has a captive export demand. Simultaneously, the farmers will grow their longer-duration root crops and indigenous hardwood varieties such as vesi and others.  It is a new idea but it is much better to sink all our time and money in a single crop that hardly can yield us income right throughout the year and is increasingly not yielding much income anyway”, says the farmer. 

Labour for the tokatoka farm is contributed on a communal basis. The Turaga-ni-Koro or the government assigned village administrator assigns a group of 20 able-bodied farmers from the village to work the community-owned tokatoka farm. The farmers are expected to work on the communal farm once in a week, even as they continue with farming on their own lands for the rest of the week.

A relatively degraded and uncultivated plot of land – quarter acre size in general – is identified and assigned for the new cultivation experiment. The farm-land is identified on the basis of its relative proximity to the village households that are expected to contribute labour and share the produce. “The idea is to make it a demo-garden so as to be able to show to the whole village the value of this new form of year-long cultivation. Farmers can learn from this and turn to similar practices on their own farms”, says Tora.

“Before we used to plant cassava and dalo on a portion of the land and the rest of the land would go unutilized.   Ours is a self-sufficiency approach that borders on subsistence farming. We grow just about enough for our needs, and the little that’s extra is taken to the market”, says a farmer in Navilawa.  

Similar tokatoka communal nurseries are being formed in seven villages of Yakete district that are part of the UNDP/GEF Small grant Projects pilot initiative in the Ba province.  SGP has paid for the seedlings that are bought from private nurseries and distributed among the participating villages.

“We need better working tools and we need better access to irrigation for the farms in order to show good results”, Tora says. He says the main source of subsistence for the farmers are the root crops. “We can increase their income by diversifying their basket of crops and that’s what is driving this initiative”, he says. “We are teaching them to introduce grafting and change their production systems. We also want to get away from pesticides and fertilizers”. 

Most farm holdings in Navilawa village are some three to four acres, enough to produce a much higher farm yield by using a combination of short, medium and long-term farming. We are even working on growing gluten-free breadfruit varieties. The opportunities are endless. Soon it will be time to introduce more varieties of citrus than the two that are doing the rounds here, mandarin and bush lemon. Seedless lime, Tahitian lime and many more. I will show the way to these farmers and they will toil in new ways”, Tora says. 

“A peculiar new problem we witness is the encroachment of wild pigs into our farm lands. These animals would stay deep inside the bush but something has changed since Cyclone Winston. Perhaps their food sources close to their habitat are all destroyed and they are coming down to our farms in search of food. We see them around our farms and they destroy our crops. There is a need to build new fences to keep the wild animals at bay”, says Peniasi Sokia, 70, the Turaga ni mataqali or village chief of Vatawai village.

The Pacific Islands have a population of more than 4 million people, spread across hundreds of islands, and scattered over approximately 15 percent of the globe’s surface.  Fiji is the largest of these islands with a population of approximately 850,000.   According to the World Bank and other reports, the 20 countries with the highest average annual disaster losses (scaled by gross domestic product) include eight Pacific island nations.  These are Vanuatu, Niue, Tonga, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands, Cook Islands and Fiji.  The Pacific region also contains within its habitat the largest number of documented extinctions, making it what Conservancy International calls “the epicenter of the current global extinction.”

Janet Lotawa, the co-founder of Rise Beyond the Reef, a non-governmental organization that works on sustainable solutions to farm-based livelihoods in Yakete district, says, “We need to establish and support longer-term solutions here that will provide resiliency in times of crisis.  We have worked with these communities for almost two years, addressing the intersectionality of needs that support resiliency.  The most important step toward resilience in the face of growing climate effects is diversifying income”.  

Climate disasters will continue to happen in the Pacific.  “Whether it’s a cyclone, flooding or a drought, these communities will need ongoing technical assistance with such issues as replanting.  They will need a better strategy for short, middle and long term crops, in order to address immediate and longer-term food security and income earning solutions.  We must also invest in educational infrastructure. Schools are the students’ second homes, and serve as shelters for families who have lost their homes”, Lotawa observes.  

About the GEF Small Grants Programme:

Established in Fiji in 2005, the GEF Small Grants Programme embodies the very essence of sustainable development by ‘thinking globally acting locally’. It does this by providing financial and technical support to projects that conserve and restore the environment while enhancing people's well-being and livelihoods. SGP demonstrates that community action can maintain the fine balance between human needs and environmental imperatives.

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