As the Accelerator Lab Pacific continues its exploration of “Climate Security for Low-Lying Coastal Areas/Atolls”, references to cultural identity continued to emerge. Cultural identity for each community in the Pacific is unique and has strengthened their resistance to climate change. Through a series of system mapping exercises with experts, we can see the interplay of growing globalization and increased migration (exacerbated by climate change). This has led to island communities losing touch with their traditional ways.

Traditional knowledge (TK) systems are key to building resilience. TK systems reconnect people to their sense of cultural identity and community, a core tenet of Pacific life that is under threat from climate migration. It would potentially improve livelihoods, decrease migration, and improve self-reliance. A hypothesis was emerging – if we could revive TK practices, this could strengthen cultural identity and in turn improve climate resilience.

A subset of our frontier challenge systems map.

Along with the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Ridge-to-Reef project, we went to explore the traditional practice of salt making. Vusama village on Fiji’s Coral Coast, is the traditional custodian of salt making on Fiji’s main island Viti Levu. The village had not made salt in 50 years, and it was on the brink of losing this traditional knowledge altogether with only four elderly village members left who knew about the practice.

The decline of salt making and reasons for revival

Women play a key role in salt making. However, as women marry outside their villages, the practice either moves or dies with them. A lady from Vusama who moved to the nearby village of Lomawai introduced the practice there. Since then, salt making in Lomawai has been connected to tourism and has improved the livelihoods of the community. Women who got married into Vusama village were not trained into the practice and preferred to buy the salt from the market. In recent years, there is a recognition of this lost art as a both a cultural and economic treasure that the village doesn’t want to` lose. A nearby resort sends tourists for a village experience to Vusama two to three times a week. The village hopes to revive the TK practice of salt making and add this to their existing tourism offer, generating increased revenue for the village. In a move to further explore this, we set up a trial for reviving the practice of crafting traditional salt from the ocean once again.

Intergenerational dialogue and collective work

The entire village came together for the event. In the height of summer, the village built a makeshift shack. The local rugby team helped with the strenuous physical tasks. Children, who were enjoying their holidays accompanied their parents. The rugby team together with the men of the village dug a pit in the Māqa[1] area in front of the coastal village to access salty groundwater and set up a fire to boil the salt. The women weaved baskets for the salt, packed the salt into tin cans. There was a sense of pride amongst all as they walked in the footsteps of their ancestors. As young people took on different tasks, elders guided them based on what they had seen and heard during the last time the salt was made.

Carrying saltwater from the pit.
Saltwater put to boil.
A woman packing the cooked salt in tins.
Women weaving baskets for storing salt.

Redefining traditional knowledge

While the villagers followed the lead of elders, they also improvised. The dried banana leaves were supposed to be a sieve and were placed underneath the tins holding the cooked salt, to allow the seeping of excess saltwater. The group found that baking of the salt burnt the leaves. They discarded this practice and replaced it poking holes into the metal base of the tin. When they found that the salt was not baking quickly enough, they set up a separate baking station of fired up coals to ensure it compresses into a hard cylinder.

Covering base of tin with dry banana leaf.
Poking holes into the base of the tin.
Tins of salt put out to bake on coals.
Using mussel shells to create rope.

Building a relationship with their natural resources

All local material was optimized. Locally available freshwater mussel shells were used to scrap the mangrove barks into ropes that were used for weaving the basket to hold the salt. Coconut barks became pestles for compressing the salt. Tins in which the salt was baked were reused cans bought off the market.

Path forward

The trial was deemed successful by all participants – the villagers, the Provincial Council, and the UNDP team – and managed to reignite the imagination of the villagers. While the village plans to connect this to sustainable tourism, they are also keen on sharing their cultural heritage with other coastal villages. Under Fijian custom, this could lead to other interested villages receiving a visit and induction from members of Vusama village to learn the practice. Also, further commercialization of the salt could be explored. What the villagers choose for themselves is to be seen. However, the team continues to look at other TK practices and hopes to map the linkages and measure the potential impact on climate security of coastal communities as we move forward.

[1] Māqa (in Vusama dialect): A barren coastal space found adjacent to the mainland and often devoid of marine flora and fauna.


With inputs from Johannes Schunter and Mohseen Riaz Ud Dean; and photos by Zainab Kakal.

Icon of SDG 13

UNDP Around the world

You are at UNDP Pacific Office 
Go to UNDP Global