Countries in the Pacific have gone into border closure between mid-March and early-April 2020, when the increase in covid-19 cases have surged across the world. The region has recorded lowest, but a growing rate of positive cases and few of the islands countries are still covid-19 free. The border closure and the ripple effects of the global devastation have hit hard on the economic status of these small island countries.
The geographical isolation of the island countries has made it a long hold for the covid-19 to reach their shores. However, the shutdown of the countries’ entry ports has turned the tide on their dependence on trade and tourism.
By mid-April 2020, the growing trend of agriculture as livelihood, commerce, food and prospect for post covid-19 recovery has gained momentum. This is especially on the smallholder farmers that have ventured into the backyard and community gardening and as well as the commercial farming especially for kava and cocoa.
On the course of layoffs from formal jobs, governments have now support citizens to return to agriculture as part of economic recovery and subsistence. Primarily in the production of root crops, animal and vegetable farming; including the commercial crops. For instance on such support, is the large allocation to the existing agricultural sector by the Solomon Islands Economic Stimulus Package.
This article elaborates on how agriculture has already been showing progress for post covid-19 recovery and how it met daily subsistence in the Pacific Islands countries. It will recommend support for the targeted group that plays an essential role in the bottom-up approach to support the agriculture sector.
Agriculture in the Pacific
According to the WHO, smallholder farmers are mainly the base runners for agriculture and agricultural economy in the Pacific, as they are the producers of vegetables, root crops, fruits and livestock for subsistence and as well as producing the cash crops.
In the Solomon Islands, the State of Environment (SOE) report highlighted that the agricultural is the most crucial sector for the country’s economy, with subsistence farming being the predominant occupation of around 80% of the population.
It has been evident that prior to covid-19, there has been an increase in the trade and imports of food and goods from other countries outside of the Pacific. This has an impact on the local food value, and the supply chains as the demands for the production shifted over the past years to imported products.
The covid-19 has amplified some of the existing issues on food security and demand for and internal regulation of local products. It broadens the dependence on local reproduction that previously has been subsidized for the imported good when on demand.
The border restrictions and the impact of covid-19 have reemphasized the rethinking for internal dependence on agriculture.
Agriculture and covid -19
The covid-19 pandemic has also shed light on some of the possible development opportunities for agriculture in the Pacific.
A presentation made by the Pacific Islands Farmers Organization Network indicated that small farming labour is vast, but has increased during the covid-19 pandemic period as people who lost their job in tourism and labour schemes have returned to agriculture.
These new farmers are facing some new challenges that are rendered to the need for support with training to ensure that long-term implications such as soil degradation are curbed.
In addition, awareness on how to practice sustainable gardening methods such as crop rotation and agro-farming is seen and recognized as important.
Lack of basic agricultural knowledge needs to be addressed as to help new farmers not only eager for a quick return but also to adapt enumerative farming practice.
Government support to agriculture
The covid-19 is unpredictable, and if continued, the economy of the small islands countries in the Pacific will continue to be demise, thus will affect the purchasing power of the citizens.
Businesses are depending on stimulus packages to stay afloat, but with prolonged restrictions, there will be continuous loose of jobs, and people will have agriculture as one of the few activities for survival.
Therefore, governments in the Pacific have tremendously pose up agriculture as one of the post-covid economic and livelihood solution.
Even though the support to agriculture and smallholder farmer varies between countries, some countries have been leading to support and recognize smallholder farmers as the backbone of agriculture, food security and subsistence income.
Vanuatu, a country that is highly dependent on the tourism sector, has faced disruption to that sector as early in March 2020 when the government restricts foreign visitors to enter the country.
Progress for post covid-19 recovery
Recognizing the contribution and roles played by the different genders and age groups in agriculture has been one of the steps to ensure that agriculture strives in the post covid-19 pandemic recovery.
Government providing direct assistance to local farmers and as well as commercial farmers and reach out to learn from the challenges faced by farmers at present.
In the Solomon Islands, the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) supported the Komukama Women Taro Farmers, an initiative started by a group of rural mothers aimed at producing taro for food and income.
“Producing food is a very important role, for it contributes much to the nation’s food security to ensure our children and citizens have food to sustain their livelihood.” MAL Permanent Secretary Ms. Frances said.
Similar to other Pacific Islands countries, the target for support to previously non-recognized small farm holders has proven beneficial for the bottom-up approached to support the economic and livelihood solutions post covid-19.
To recognize and support women and young people in agriculture has contributed and played a pivotal role in the advancement of agriculture during this period of restriction and border closure.