Marshall Islands

Drought hit atolls to receive help

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11/03/2018 Wotje, Marshall Islands With the effects of climate change and extreme weather events disproportionately affecting people in the Pacific, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) with the support of the Marshall Islands government is providing emergency aid to some of the Marshall Islands remote atolls hit hardest by drought.

In February, Auguste Lameta and Francis Chopin from FAO together with Sepola Lafita the RMI national consultant, travelled to Wotje atoll to carry out interviews of householders to evaluate the impacts of the drought on household garden fruit and vegetable production. Wotje atoll is about 150 nautical miles north of Majuro and home to about 120 households. There is a flight from Majuro usually about once per week. Infrequent boat transport means supplies in households and the schools often running out, the islanders must take care of themselves. Most shortages can be met but occasionally, nature throws a curve ball and life can get tough for a long time. “Drought in the remote atolls can be devastating since it not only shrivels up the fruit and vegetables but scorches the ground and saps the spirit of gardeners”, said Francis Chopin, Senior Fisheries and Aquaculture Officer. “Salt spray, heat stress and poor soils add to the factors the islanders have to cope with”, he added.

“Our mission to Wotje atoll, one of five atolls to be visited in the coming months, was to interview householders and to listen to their opinions on the types of seeds, seedlings and training support needed to re-establish household gardens” said Auguste Lameta, FAO Programme Associate. She added, “we interviewed about 25% of the households across Wotje including the teachers at the Northern Islands High School (NIHS) and elementary school to get asnapshot of the issues and future needs”. Even on such a small atoll there are distinct differences in household garden production on ocean and lagoon sides.

The FAO project is focused on providing immediate relief to 70% of the households across five atolls (Wotje, Aur, Maloelap, Mejit and Namu) through the provision of seeds and seedlings. However, the interviews from Wotje indicate that provision of seeds alone is not sufficient to ensure the project outcomes. There is a need for soil enrichment, better watering practices, pest management to name but a few. In this regard, the presence of a high school that receives students from four of the atolls in our project can be a great help in implementing the project and working with the community on developing and implementing better gardening practices. “NIHS have an agriculture teaching course as part of the school curriculum and the school has expressed interest to deliver community based training to islanders as well as involving their students in new gardening approaches such as “key hole gardens”, said Lameta.

Thanks to the great support of Henry Capelle, Chief of Agriculture at NRC, NRC Deputy Secretary Iva Robertson, the National Project Coordinator Rufus Lajkit, the Mayor of Wotje Ota Kisino, the Wotje schools and Wotje community at large, the FAO team came away from the atolls knowing that a great opportunity exists to re-establish household gardens on both Wotje and Wodmej islands.