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How Diverse Crops Create a Safety Net for Solomon Islanders

The Solomon Islands are made up of about 1,000 islands spread over a vast expanse of the western Pacific Ocean. Like other Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the country is particularly vulnerable to external shocks and environmental crises due to its small size, remote location and limited resources. This became especially apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic, when 60 per cent of households reported running out of food.

It wasn’t always this way. Traditional food systems in the archipelago were once characterized by the trade and exchange of diverse foods grown in gardens or caught from the bountiful sea. It is only in recent decades that people have become dependent on imported foods, like refined rice, which are cheaper and less perishable but have seriously damaged local nutrition and agrobiodiversity.

Bringing back that traditional dietary diversity is crucial to building resilience and ensuring Solomon Islanders can always access enough nutritious food, even in times of crisis.

Sowing the seeds of resilience

As Elsie Rayan Gideon patiently extracts aubergine seeds, she knows that this seemingly quotidian task has implications far beyond her family’s dinner table.

As a member of the Ringgi Farmers’ Association on the island of Kolombangara, she is collecting them for the community germplasm centre. Supported by the IFAD-funded PIRAS facility in partnership with the Kastom Gaden Association, this vital resource stores seeds and cuttings of a range of locally adapted plants, including native species.

Here, Elsie’s seeds will be preserved, duplicated and distributed to farmers in the community, so they can also grow, eat and sell quality aubergines. The nine germplasm centres established through PIRAS are led by committees of experienced farmers, who draw on their knowledge of local conditions to choose the most resilient varieties to cultivate and distribute.

The germplasm centres are supplemented by diversity fairs which are attended by thousands of rural people. Here, farmers in remote areas meet and learn from each other, visit demonstration plots, buy fresh produce and learn about crops that are new to them.

“We got seeds for different vegetables, like different varieties and colours of eggplant,” Elsie explains. “The project also taught us new recipes and different ways to prepare our food.”

From subsistence to success

While many families on Kolombangara already practice forms of subsistence farming, PIRAS has provided ways to add crops that bring in an income. For example, Simaema Parara – another member of the farmers’ organization – now cultivates ginger as a cash crop.

With the training she received, she was able to increase her production, avoid wastage through food processing, and introduce composting and mulching techniques that reduce reliance on purchased fertilizer. She has also received other inputs, including vegetable seeds and seedlings, hand tools to make her work easier, and shade cloth to protect young plants from the tropical sun.

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