Monthly Archives: March 2015

Agricultural recovery vs risk management after Cyclone Pam

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeWeeks after Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu in mid March 2015, there has been an acute food shortage right across the country. Limited stock has been used up since the disaster and it is now apparent that food supply and planting materials are in high demand for debilitation. Very recently, the Vanuatu Government has removed all duty exempts on food products including chicken and agricultural tools and materials purposely for emergency reliefs. Initial efforts relating to a healthy, effective and immediate recovery in terms of the introduction of agricultural planting materials to restore food gardens are paramount. In view of these:-

  1. What are some potential risks and how could they be managed?
  2. What materials should be recommended and how could the initial recovery process handled?

Derin community accesses safe water source

Hygienic issues, also related to livestock and free roaming animals, pose an eminent threat to already contaminated water sources. Communities like Derin located in Transgogol, Madang Province, face such challenges, especially during prolonged dry seasons.

In collaboration with World Vision, Madang, Derin community members were trained in proper hygienic practices, and suitable water supply and purification systems were identified. Amongst the selected options were hand dug wells, rain water harvesting systems, and water purification through application of biosandfilter and solar disinfection.

Five rain water harvesting systems consisting of 9000 liter tanks each and other hardware were designed and set-up by the Aiyura based EU-ARD soil and water team in July last year. They were officially handed over to the community in October, 2014. Towards the end of the dry season in November last year work to install a shallow hand-dug well started and was successfully completed by December. The well’s clean and fresh water is now available to the community.

dddddddDuring a water purification training held in January 2015, 11 biosandfilters to purify contaminated water were constructed and interested villagers were trained in proper usage. The biosandfilter technology was well received by villagers and many stated that the filtered water tasted good.

Microbiological water quality tests conducted on-site convinced the villagers of the effectiveness of the sandfilters to reduce levels of contamination. WADIS devices which measure solar radiation for solar disinfection, were also distributed to interested villagers. These activities provide options for Derin community members to gain access to safe and secure drinking water.

Water management trainings to prepare the community for the dry season, and monitoring activities, will be conducted throughout the final project year.

Food security response after Cyclone Pam

A destroyed banana plantation in Mele, Vanuatu.  Photo:

A destroyed banana plantation in Mele, Vanuatu.

In the wake of the devastating Cyclone Pam that tore apart Vanuatu on March 13 -14, the country is in urgent need to secure food; to quantify all stocks imported and local foods, seeds, and farming tools on the island; and to identify the sources and types of vegetative planting materials available on all islands. The country also requires urgent commitment from Government finance and international agencies for prompt and available finance to purchase locally available supplies.

Vanuatu has taken action on food security needs through The Food and Security Agriculture Cluster (FSAC) which is the coordinating body for all the food security, food aid, and agriculture response to Cyclone Pam.

FSAC in response to pressing needs has undertaken stock assessments on the existing local stock of food aid, seeds, and farming tools, and has sought financial assistance through a memorandum to financiers for emergency food costs as stocks will quickly run out and will need to be purchased immediately to ensure that delivery to the most affected rural areas is not hampered.

Other response efforts that have been undertaken include a preliminary analysis of Emergency Food Aid requirements by islands, along with detailed and budgeted action plans for re-sponse in the areas of agriculture damage assessment, food package, food distribution, food, seeds, farming tool stock assessments, planting materials assessment, extension support, and communications.

Key food security messages on replanting for farmers and communities, and food distribution, are already being aired on local radio.

Devastation as Tropical Cyclone Pam storms through Vu

Adrian Banga surveys what remains of his house in Port Vila, Vanuatu, in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam. Photo:

Adrian Banga surveys what remains of his house in Port Vila, Vanuatu, in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam. Photo:

As climate change becomes a worldwide environmental issue, it has demonstrated clearly in the recent aftermath of Cyclone Pam. Climate change brought extremes to Vanuatu as seen in the devastation following the terrifying Cyclone Pam which wreaked destruction throughout the island nation and its outer islands on March 13 and 14.

Pam is a severe tropical cyclone and is considered as one of the worst natural disasters in the history of Vanuatu. About 65,000 people across Vanuatu were left homeless by the cyclone, which killed 17 people, said Osnat Lubrani, the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for the country. The storm’s impacts have also been experienced, to a lesser extent, on the other islands in the South Pacific, particularly the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu, and New Zealand. Pam is the second most intense storm of the South Pacific Ocean according to pressure, after Zoe of 2002.

The extent of damage is large as the storm moved through the archipelago, especially in Efate, the capital of Port Vila; and the Tafea islands of Erromango and Tanna. The cyclone crippled Vanuatu’s infrastructure: an estimated 90 percent of the nation’s buildings were impacted by the storm’s effects, telecommunications were paralyzed, and water shortages continue to plague the small nation.

Vanuatu President Baldwin Lonsdale has said: “After all the development we have done for the last couple of years and this big cyclone came and just destroyed… all the infrastructure the government has… built. Completely destroyed”.

Communication across the country was crippled, with only one cellular tower in Port Vila remaining operational.

Four days after the storm, nearly 60 of the Vanuatu’s inhabited islands remained cut-off from the outside world. UNICEF has estimated that up to 90 percent of the buildings in Vanuatu have been affected by Tropical Cyclone Pam. Hospitals, schools and water supply are either compromised or destroyed.

By March it would be normal for around four cyclones to have formed in the South Pacific. The 2015 season has been particularly bad. Six cyclones have hit the region since the beginning of the year.

Project addresses soil fertility and yield challenges of sweet potato production in the high altitudes

Preparation of compost mounds

Preparation of compost mounds

Project activities at the Alkena and Kiripia sites are well into developing a protocol for technologies, with the intention to improve soil fertility and productivity of sweet potato mound and tuber yield as part of farmer interventions.

Sweet potato is the staple food crop for the high altitude highlands areas however its yields have declined over the years due to a number of factors including continuous cultivation of the same varieties over generations; pests and diseases (weevils, scab and virus); high rainfalls with high and prolonged cloud cover; increased population, and limited options for improved fallow.

Deficiencies of potassium (K) and phosphorous (P) in volcanic soils give poor crop yield in older sweet potato gardens. These deficiencies are attributed to repeated cycles of sweet potato cultivation and nutrient removal by tubers and vines that contain high amounts of K and S or through the burning of weed and crop residues that release S (SO2) into the atmosphere.

Sweet potato needs moderate nitrogen (N) and low phosphorous (P) and is a high user of potassium (K). P is required for good root development, and sweet potato extracts P from the soil. This characteristic is good in the volcanic soils in the highlands.

Farmers under these environmental challenges have developed the compost mounding system to plant sweet potato where large quantities of dry biomass are used and soils are added to make these mounds. Materials added to the compost vary from place to place but the commonly used are weeds and Mischanthus Spp dry leaves, even Imperata cylindrica.

Studies are conducted under this project to assess the effects of fallow periods and compost material type on productivity of sweet potato mound and tuber yield of sweet potato variety at the Alkena and Kiripia sites. This study will look at the;

  1. effects of different fallow periods on tuber yield of common sweet potato varieties,
  2. effects of different plant species and compost types on yield of common sweet potato varieties, and
  3. interaction of different fallow periods, plant species and compost type on yield of common sweet potato varieties.
Dried Mexican Sunflower compost material

Dried Mexican Sunflower compost material

The different fallow periods under study are zero fallow, six months fallow and more than a year’s fallow. The compost materials used are Miscanthus Spp (pitpit), local vegetation (whatever plants found growing near the site), and Tithonia diversifolia (Mexican Sunflower).

To assess the common cultural practice of trash burning before constructing mounds; sweet potato mound craters were placed with the compost materials and burnt while similar treatments was left unburnt (control).

Soil samples taken before the studies in these sites showed very low levels of P, and K under acid soils, which are the characteristics of a typical high altitude volcanic soil. Field days will be conducted during harvests and farmers will be trained on the importance of fallow periods, compost materials, sweet potato variety and burning of trash before constructing sweet potato mounds.

Soil moisture conservation and fertility management demo for Yule Island

Field demonstrations to implement soil moisture conservation and soil fertility management options at Yule Island were underway in mid-February, 2015.

Farmers from Yule Island in Central Province were shown options of mulching, composting, planting leguminous hedge rows using Glyricidia sepium, Mucuna species, and planting other legume crops and plants (depending on the availability of planting materials locally).

The demonstrations were conducted by NARI Scientists Johannes Pakatul and Tai Kui from NARI’s Highlands Regional Centre, Aiyura.

At one garden, two yam demonstration plots were planted with 15 seeds with compost and 15 seeds were planted as done locally. Compost materials used were local grass vegetation, Imperata cylindrica and Rottboellia axaltata, amongst other broad leaf weeds. Leaves of the legume Glyricidia sepium were added to the planting hole before covering it with soil.

At another garden a demonstration was done using Glyricidia sepium branches which were cut and planted at the edges of the garden. Farmers were asked to continue with planting on the edges of the garden.

Another demonstration involved the planting of nitrogen-fixing legume crops in 3m x 6m blocks, with mung-beans in one block, dwarf and climbing beans in a second block, and Mucuna seeds in a third block.

The scientists also reported back to farmers at Hisiu on the findings from soil samples, collected in a previous visit, on the soil nutrient status of their gardens. More than 60 farmers, both young and old, males and females, attended the session. Farmers were eager to learn of the good properties of their soils, and of any disadvantages for their cultivated crops.

The scientists also highlighted the importance of improving organic matter of shallow sandy alluvial soils with soil improvement options like composting, integrating agroforestry options using Glyricidia, and mulching.

Training on soil fertility improvement in farmer fields using vegetables will be conducted at a later date by NARI Scientist Philmah Seta-Waken


Project supports Vanuatu poultry farmers

A Vanuatu poultry farmer in a chicken shed

A Vanuatu poultry farmer in a chicken shed

Farmers on Efate Island in Vanuatu have picked up a lot in innovative agriculture using new and improved research-based technologies introduced by this project. Research scientist Martin Lobao, who is also the project’s Livestock Component Leader, says there is growing interest on the use of the technologies by model farmers involved in the project as initial outcomes have shown positive results.

He said farmers observed general improvements on chicken production and spoke highly of the skills and support they are receiving and outcomes they are seeing in terms of increased egg production, chicken numbers and income.

Mr Lobao said this after returning from a field visit to Malafau and Siviri project sites in Efate. His team visited farmers that are not only involved in village chicken and layer activities but also others participating in yam, sweet potato and cassava production.

Vanuatu’s domestic poultry industry for commercial egg and frozen chickens is not large enough to meet the local demand. Therefore most of its poultry-based products are imported, mostly from New Zealand and Australia.

The initiative, among crop and livestock activities, is aimed at enabling local farmers produce their own chicken at village level to meet their protein and income requirements.

The team also visited rain gauges that were set up at the project sites under the soil and water resource component and were now handed over to the Vanuatu Department of Meteorology.

Mr Lobao added that farmers involved in livestock feed development, particularly pig silage, and value addition of staple crops (cassava and sweet potato) were also visited.

“Some notable outcomes of pig silage included improved growth, size and taming behavior of pigs after they were feed silage,” Mr Lobao said.

He said many participating model farmers also organized and conducted their own trainings in their local communities on pig silage and value addition.

During those trainings, some existing model farmers also supplied stocks.