Ngeremlengui, Palau – While rich in natural resources, Palau does not produce enough food to build a reliable industry, mainly because the cost of production is higher than the cost of importation.
Subsistence crop production remains the predominant agricultural activity in the Pacific nation, which grows sweet potato, banana, coconut, taro and cassava, and raises poultry, pigs and dairy cows.
“I feel that a challenge for many of the farmers in my state is that we have not managed to produce beyond household consumption and have not been able to produce enough to meet the needs of the community,” said Davis Tamtreng, one of the first Ngeremlengui farmers participating in the Micronesia Covid-19 Response (MICCO19) project.
Funded by the European Union and the U.S. Agency for International Development, MICC019 is a short-term response to the impacts of Covid-19 on food security, according the Pacific Community (SPC).
SPC launched MICCO19 earlier this month by distributing poultry and vegetable farming equipment to five farmers in Ngeremlengui State, the first project area.
“MICCO19 will help improve accessibility to fresh meat but I am especially excited for the provision of chicken manure to enhance my composting of my vegetable garden," Tamtreng said. "This type of assistance will encourage others in the community as well who may be thinking about farming."
SPC said a nursery will be established in a community agricultural extension facility, a state-designated site to store vegetable seedlings that can be accessed by the community.
Project implementation in Palau will introduce a community-based integrated farming system for backyard poultry and vegetable farming to boost local production.
According to SPC, the MICCO19 project targets 65 farmers across Palau's 13 states. They will be provided with readily built chicken coops with a chicken feeder trough and drinker, 24 chicks and a three-month supply of chicken feed.
The farmers will also train for regular chicken feeding, in addition to training on manure collection for natural fertilizer conversion.
Fred Sengebau, director of the Bureau of Agriculture, said Covid-19 has had a negative effect on families' livelihood and MICCO19 will assist low-income families to put food on the table and earn money for other living expenses.
“Suitable equipment design and training will ensure participating farmers can produce quality poultry meat and easily utilize chicken manure for composting and vegetable production,” he said.
SPC said the Palau project is implemented by the group's Land Resources Division in collaboration with the Bureau of Agriculture and involves support from the Taiwan International Cooperation and Development Fund and the Palau Community Action Agency.
Along with tourism and fishing, agriculture is one of the key economic activities in Palau.
However, the Bureau of Agriculture said agriculture contributed only 1.4 percent to the nation's gross domestic product in 2014, dropping from 4.9 percent in 2009. Food imports are significant, comprising 9.1 percent of total imports (by value) in 2013.
“We’re excited to see the MICCO19 project implementation begin in Palau and hope to further our commitment to empower communities and promote good governance," said Karen Mapusua, director of SPC’s Land Resources Division.
"This is key to improving food and nutrition security and we acknowledge the great partnerships that have been able to foster this, and great work being done by the Bureau of Agriculture and the Palau Community Action Agency,” she added.
Mapusua noted hat amid the uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic, food insecurity was a rising issue globally and it needs to be addressed through a people-centered approach, such as that implemented by MICCO19.