The countries of the Pacific face the effects of climate change, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss due to the unsustainable use of both land and marine resources. As a result of mismanaged agriculture, land degradation is rampant and food production is decreasing.
At the same time, the agricultural sector is under pressure to feed a larger population using the same amount of land and dependence on imported food is increasing. One solution for intensifying production is to introduce agrochemicals and fertilizers to farming. These methods have unfortunate side effects and the chemicals leach into the environment, affecting both ecosystems and human health.
Towards a Solution
The Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) identified the promotion of organic agriculture as key to solving these issues. Organic agriculture has the potential to make a significant and positive impact on the sustainable development of small island developing States, while strengthening ecosystem services and increasing resilience to climate change. Its emphasis on resilience and crop diversity stimulates farmers to develop new crop and farming systems in response to climate change. Organic farming at the community level builds smallholder farmersaccess to marketplaces and helps to safeguard traditional knowledge, diverse food cultures and food security
The Global Environment Facility Small Grants Programme (GEF SGP) Cuba has been promoting sustainable land management, including organic farming, and has developed an environmentally sustainable agriculture model that increases the resilience of agricultural systems to climate change. Over the last few years, GEF SGP Cuba implemented 14 projects that brought 5,527 hectares of land under improved management and benefitted 23 agricultural cooperatives. These results provided the basis for this exchange facilitated by GEF SGP Cuba, Fiji and the Solomon Islands.
In May 2015, participants from Cuba, El Salvador, Fiji, Guatemala and the Solomon Islands met in Havana, Cuba to learn from Cuban farmers about low cost and proven ecological farming practices that are easily adaptable and transferrable to the Pacific as solutions to the pressing issue of food security and the environmental concerns shared by many small island States. During the training, participants shared a fruitful dialogue on future South- South cooperation in the areas of organic farming, sustainability and resilience development in the fragile ecosystems of small island developing States. The exchange, facilitated by the GEF SGP and implemented by UNDP in Cuba, further allowed farmers and development practitioners to receive training from academic representatives and from the Ministry of Agriculture in Cuba.
To coordinate the exchange, POETCom, a network of organic producers across the Pacific Islands, selected the Zai Na Tina Organic Demonstration and Research Farm (ZNT) from the Solomon Islands and Tei Tei Taveuni (TTT) from Fiji. These farmers’ organizations are community-based leaders in their respective countries. During the workshop, the participants visited five local cooperatives that have implemented organic and urban agriculture practices successfully. Benefitting from the on-the-ground expertise of local farmers, the main topics discussed included organic fertilizer production using crop residues and excreta from worm culture and composting; local seed production and conservation; plantlet production; agro-ecological pest and disease management; use of semi-protected and multiple cropping systems; and intercropping.
On returning to Taveuni, Fiji, TTT used the knowledge gained during the exchange, with the assistance of a Cuban technician, to experiment with local worms for vermiculture. The organization also started to explore different irrigation methods, including solar-powered water pumps, on two demonstration farms. As of 2017, TTT is working to establish 15 demonstration farms across Taveuni Island and streamlining the lessons they learned in this exchange on the farms management practices. This includes companion planting, vermiculture, composting, seed saving, agroforestry and intercropping of fruit trees to ensure a stable yield and continuous income for the farmers. TTT is also exploring ways to incorporate agrotourism in their demonstration farms.
Similarly, in the Solomon Islands, ZNT implemented lessons learned by building well-planned, raised beds and box beds following the measurements they observed in Cuba. This has been effective in preventing the soil erosion that regularly occurs during heavy rainfalls in the Solomon Islands and is a good climate change adaptation technique.
ZNT has also modified its farm management practices to include systematic composting, with due regard to both the quality and nutrient density of the compost. This has greatly improved the farmers’ access to compost. Companion planting has also been implemented, and marigolds and sweet basil are now routinely planted in the beds as natural insect repellents. This is believed to have completely eradicated the presence of African snails on its farms. ZNT is also bio-prospecting for suitable, local earthworms to use for composting vermiculture, as import restrictions prevent the use of Cuban earthworms for this purpose. ZNT was likewise impressed with the agrotourism activities in Cuba and is now preparing its demonstration farm for educational tours. Furthermore, ZNT has signed a contract with the Solomon Islands Government to create a farm stay for eco-tourists and has been awarded government funding.
The exchange is expected to help to improve food production and overall environmental protection for the communities engaged, thereby contributing to the efforts of both countries.
Countries/ territories involved: Cuba and the Pacific
Supported by: GEF Small Grants Programme
Implementing entities: GEF Small Grants Programme and Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom)
Project status: Completed
Project period: 2015-2017
URL of the practice: goo.gl/YuF3R5
Name: Mr. Fabio Fajardo, GEF SGP National Coordinator, Cuba