Published on 25th June 2014
Most people in the Asia-Pacific make their living through agriculture. VSA supports them in a number of different ways, but the goal is always the same: to enable a better future.
Throughout the Asia-Pacific, one in five people live in hardship, unable to meet their own basic need for food, water and healthcare. That figure rises as high as 40% in Timor-Leste; 60% in Papua New Guinea. An even greater proportion live a subsistence lifestyle. Nearly 80% of the population of the Pacific Islands live in rural areas – most work, paid and unpaid, is on the land.
But it is also the region in the world most susceptible to natural disasters. Of the 20 countries in the world with the worst economic losses due to natural disasters1, eight are Pacific Island nations.
VSA currently has 19 volunteers working with 13 partner organisations to build sustainable livelihoods, and ensure the communities we work with can make a meaningful living from the land and sea.
In Samoa, agriculture has taken a series of hits from the global financial crisis, the 2009 tsunami and Cyclone Evan, which caused more than US$200 million in damage.
Volunteer Glenn Cant has worked as Horticulture and Marketing Adviser with the Poutasi Development Trust (PDT) in Samoa for the last two years. PDT is a cooperative market garden, which supplies vegetables and salad greens such as mesclun, rocket and fresh herbs to restaurants and supermarkets. Not long after Glenn's arrival, Cyclone Evan destroyed all the seedlings he and members of the PDT had planted, demonstrating the risks faced by growers in this region.
Within three months, they were back up and running, and with substantial support from the Tindall Foundation they were able to construct growing tunnels to provide shade and shelter to their seedlings.
In April, PDT hosted a delegation from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) interested in the model of development at PDT, which combines funding from the NZ Aid Programme with a new philanthropic partner in the Tindall Foundation.
Sara Ferrandi, from Apia's UNDP office, praised the Poutasi Gardens project as a great example of community-led development. "The success stems from the engagement of a village under the inspiration of the community’s recognised leaders. It builds on achievements and learns from the successes and failures. In our view it can be considered inspirational for a development model.”
Glenn and his wife, fellow volunteer Sharyn, will return home later this year. Prime Minister John Key plans to visit Poutasi in June.
John and Jenny Spencer volunteered with the Wide Bay Conservation Association (WBCA) in Kokopo, Papua New Guinea, returning home earlier this year.
WBCA works with communities in the Wide Bay area to secure land rights and teach good stewardship of that land. Its field officers spend weeks in remote areas with no internet connectivity or phone coverage, and must deal with all their records when they return to the office. John and Jenny streamlined processes throughout WBCA – freeing time for WBCA CEO Elizabeth Tongne to plan field work and report more efficiently to her funders. Elizabeth said what once may have taken her a day to find in her records is now at her fingertips, and John and Jenny’s work has allowed her field officers to “concentrate on their field work without worrying about anything else”.
In Vanuatu, Jane Rutledge volunteered as Marketing Adviser to World Vision from 2011 to the end of last year. Jane helped form the Market House Committee, which gave women a voice in the Santo markets, and provided essential income for their families. (Vista issue 2, 2013).
She also helped start a coconut jam business, ‘Coconut Gold’, which continues to flourish.
As she left Vanuatu, Jane was exploring more options for farmers, such as aquaculture: in south Santo, nearly 20 farmers have already established ponds for farming prawns and tilapia, alongside their coconut trees.
“Diversifying will give them better resilience to weather any problems”, she says, “and vital extra income streams”. Jane’s successor, Grace Savage, has been in Vanuatu just a few months, and says that already she’s seen how welcome VSA and World Vision are. “We often stop to talk with people. The sense I get is that VSA/World Vision has become a welcome and appreciated part of these communities.”
This article first appeared in the May 2014 issue of VSA's magazine Vista.