Rita Kawai stands next to her little nursery that is successfully runs for herself and her family. (Photo: UNDP/Tomoko Kashiwazaki)

By Tomoko Kashiwazaki, UNV Communications, Advocacy and Outreach Specialist, UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji

Port Vila, Vanuatu - Rita Kawai never thought she could grow vegetables in the backyard of her land in Etas settlement, in the suburb of Port Vila. The soil was too hard and dry and infertile for gardening. 

When Tropical Cyclone Pam, struck Vanuatu in 2015 and caused serious damage, it flooded and destroyed her land. Thus, she was forced to return to River Valley to recover her plot, walking for more than four hours for a return trip. 

Rita was fortunate to be one of eight women farmers from Efate Island, who were introduced to the small land space gardening techniques provided by the Small Grants Programme (SGP) jointly supported by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in partnership with the Vanuatu Government.

“The biggest benefit from my participation in this programme is that I do not have to buy food, my farm brings it to our table. My 15 year-old son has started his small farm too,” said Rita.

In her garden in Etas, seedlings of lettuce are growing on the nursery table ready to be picked up by network women farmers. Tomatoes and capsicums are about to be harvested. Surplus of the produce enables women to earn income from selling them at the local markets and provide more families in Vanuatu with nutritious food.

The programme encouraged women in the outskirts of Port Vila, whose major livelihood and subsistence farming was badly affected by TC Pam, to improve their gardening skills and conditions and strengthen food security of families. 

The eight women were trained in soil improvement such as composting techniques and provided basic equipment and farm supply including seeds, water tank and farming tools. The women became ‘center mamas’ or women focal points, building each network of neighboring women and sharing the knowledge, skills and tools they have gained from the Programme.

Since the commencement of the Programme in March 2015, eight networks of local women farmers have been formed and 58 women in the networks have been cultivating vegetables in their backyard with improved soil management. 

Small island food production in Vanuatu is threatened by the limited land space adequate for farming with has stretched water resources. Supporting women’s backyard farming has proved most resilient and an effective way to strengthen food security of Ni-Vanuatu families.

“The skills women gained from the joint programme between the GE-SGP, UNDP, a local woman led Community based organization and the Vanuatu government Agriculture Department have also brought them confidence where they’ve shared what they achieved with other women and families,” said SGP National Coordinator, Leah Nimoho.

This ‘center mama’ network approach is now expanding to four more islands in Vanuatu with women eager to share with fellow farmers.

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