Women embrace backyard gardening in Houma, Tonga

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‘I keep telling my husband we need to hire a security guard,’ jokes Mele Finau as she nods in the direction of her vegetable garden. Sure enough two of her six children have abandoned their mother’s side and have turned their attention to the latest addition to their growing crop - a bunch of green tomatoes.

‘We have to stop our kids from picking them when they’re not ripe but they’re really happy; we’re all happy with the new garden. Before, I couldn’t make things like curry because I had no vegetables and I have eight altogether in my family so I can’t afford to buy a big chicken but now I can afford to buy a one-kilogram chicken and I mix it with the vegetables.

‘The project is a great help because my kids are in school and we don’t have enough money to buy seedlings and vegetables are quite expensive,’ she adds.

The project Finau is referring to is the Vegetation and land cover mapping and improving food security for building resilience to a changing climate in Pacific Island communities, a regional initiative currently being implemented by six Pacific Island governments with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). It promotes diversification and sustainability of land-based food production systems through an integrated farming approach that encompasses agro-forestry, crop and livestock diversity, planting material supply as well as pest and disease monitoring and prevention.

Finau’s village of Houma on the northern side of 'Eua Island is one of three selected project sites in Tonga.

Losalini Ma’asi, Chief Executive Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Forest and Fisheries, explains: ‘The responsibility of the ministry is to ensure the food security and nutrition of the people of Tonga and we look at ways we can assist them, particularly the vulnerable ones.

‘Droughts and strong winds are more common nowadays, so the sites for this project were selected based on the climate challenges but also on the willingness of the people to be involved and their contributions to the work that needed to be done in order to make progress.’

In the project’s first year of implementation in the Pacific Island kingdom, Houma has benefitted from the construction of several family-managed poultry sheds and concrete piggeries, an on-site demonstration farm and a nursery where many women like Finau have been able to source free seedlings to start their own gardens.

Training support, including cooking demonstrations, has also been provided to the communities.

‘Tonga is one the countries in the Pacific that is affected by NCDs and we have been trying to encourage the communities, particularly the women, to grow vegetable gardens for home consumption for their meals and at the same time they can sell their excess vegetables for extra income,’ says Ms Ma’asi.

Down the road from Finau’s home, lively conversation fills the air as a group of women gather at the village hall.

‘We’re excited about today’s cooking demonstration, especially using all the varieties of vegetables,’ explains Anamafi Latu Kula, Chairperson of the local Fangatave Women’s group.

The women’s group has also recently been able to establish a communal garden with the seedlings supplied from the project nursery.

‘We have droughts and there are pests sometimes but now we have a variety of crops and natural repellent plants to help control the pests. It’s important for women to be involved as they can better understand how to look after the crops,’ says Kula.

For more information please contact, Ms. Vuki Buadromo, SPC Project Manager, Vegetation and land cover mapping and improving food security for building resilience to a changing climate in Pacific island communities (USAID Project),