Majuro — Communities in the remote, drought prone, northern atolls of the Republic of Marshall Islands (RMI) are trialing new food security measures to increase the availability of local food crops, expand the use of drought resistant crop varieties, improve soil management practices, and establish nurseries.
These efforts are part of the European Union – North Pacific - Readiness for El Niño (RENI) project, implemented by the Pacific Community (SPC). The project is a response to the severe 2015-2016 El Niño drought, and will enhance the resilience of communities to potential shocks and insecurities resulting from future droughts.
RENI has adopted a participatory approach to this project, which incorporates the rights and vulnerabilities of women and marginalized groups. National and local area consultations were held early in 2018 to ensure that the voices of local communities in RMI were heard and that the project activities address their practical needs. Following this planning process, a detailed project design document was finalized by the government of RMI and SPC in July.
Marshall Islands is extremely vulnerable to climate change and natural hazards. The country is experiencing damaging effects from climate change and seeing more frequent and intense events, such as drought, floods and swells, and tropical cyclones and storms. The recent drought of 2015–2016 resulted in the national government having to declare a state of disaster with an estimated 53,158 persons or 7,738 households across the RMI affected by the severe drought conditions.
The International Labor Organization’s Post Disaster Needs Assessment shows that the total economic losses caused by the drought have an estimated value of $4.9 million, with agriculture being the single most affected individual sector. Based on the assessment on employment and livelihoods, supported by the ILO, it is estimated that, during FY 2016, approximately 7,084 work days (or its equivalent of 27 full-time jobs) and USD 71,120 of personal income were lost as a net result of a drought-induced shift in production. The quality of life in the atoll country declined significantly as a direct result of the drought conditions.
Team Leader, Climate Change, Energy, and Circular Economy, Delegation of the European Union for the Pacific, Adrian Nicolae emphasized the wide-ranging benefits of the RENI project saying, “This project will not only help vulnerable communities prepare for the next drought, it will also build on existing efforts by the government of RMI, to build awareness and influence behaviors around the linkage between healthy lifestyles and the reduction of non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure.”
The initial food security activities of RENI will be trialed in Ailuk, a rural environment, and Santo-Kwajalein, a semi-urban environment. The experiences from these trials will then be shared with residents and farmers in Enewetek, Mejit, Utrik and Wotho. Throughout the entire process SPC staff will be working closely with the RMI agencies responsible for natural resources, internal affairs and disaster management.
The SPC Director-General, Colin Tukuitonga, highlighted the importance of the RENI project both for RMI and the wider Pacific, “Achieving our common vision of a resilient Pacific in the face of climate change and variability requires proactive measures, close partnerships and community engagement. The RENI project will enhance the resilience of the Marshallese communities in preparation for future droughts and serve as a model for mitigation efforts across the region”.
Working closely with RMI non-governmental organizations such as Women United Together Marshall Islands and the Marshall Islands Organic Farmers Association, RENI will establish home gardening and provide training in food preservation methods in the targeted atolls.
“The government of RMI views the RENI project as a testing ground for re-establishing food security in the northern atolls. In the past, subsistence agriculture was an important activity in the outer atolls, but has declined in recent years as a result of a general trend towards other forms of employment, combined with the availability of convenient processed food,” said RMI Secretary for Ministry of Natural Resources and Commerce, Iva Reimers-Roberto. (SPC)