Self-sufficient farming for better health in the remote Pacific

IFAD Asset Request Portlet

Asset Publisher

Self-sufficient farming for better health in the remote Pacific

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
© IFAD/Marco Salustro

There are few places in the world as remote as Kiribati. This tiny atoll of sandy beaches and lagoons is moored in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles away from any mainland.

Like in many island states in the Pacific, the low-lying and sandy landscape is unsuitable to farming, while their remoteness makes it hard to access and afford essential farming inputs.

The result is that many people rely on a few limited sources of nutrition and processed imported food, leading to a high prevalence of diseases related to diet and lifestyle, like diabetes and heart disease. In 2019, non-communicable diseases (NCDs) accounted for 73 per cent of deaths in Kiribati, compared to 45 per cent in the less remote island of Madagascar.

But with support from IFAD, rural people are leading the way in sustainable farming, using techniques that nurture natural resources and make the best use of what’s available in their small island communities. By doing so, they’re making diverse nutritious foods available and creating a foundation for better health in the years to come.

Learning and earning together

Willie and his youth group teach sustainable farming to members of the community. © IFAD/Barbara Gravelli


Take 24-year-old Willie Marera Tabuia. When his father died, he and his eight siblings struggled to put food on the table with only three of them in employment.

Then COVID-19 hit, and the situation became even more difficult. Willie and his family made a vital decision: to return to the soil. With support from PIRAS, they began cultivating kitchen gardens – this way, they were never short of fresh fruits and vegetables.

For Willie, the experience was life-changing. Today, he is the founder and president of the Tungaru Youth Agriculture Association, which teaches young people to farm and experiment with agricultural techniques and a wide range of vegetables. Their families feast on courgettes, cucumber, cabbage, lettuce and aubergines, and the excess is sold in a roadside market.

“The two most common dishes we relied on before COVID were rice and fish,” says Willie. “We couldn’t afford to buy fresh vegetables.” Now, vegetables are part of their daily diet.

PIRAS provided the group with rainwater catchment tanks and advised them on how to save quality seeds for future crops – a crucial bit of forward planning in this Pacific atoll, where seeds can be scarce and expensive. The young people also fenced their plots to protect their crops from livestock and learned to make quality compost to condition the soil.

The members of the youth group are now community leaders in sustainable farming and have found a way to work, learn and earn together. “Our youth group meets and works in our garden each day. When new members join, we teach them all that we have learnt from the trainings,” says Willie.

Healthy nutrition

Teakontaake stays healthy by growing vegetables and
cooking ​​​​nutritious meals © Kamaawa Ioane

In the remote outer islands of Kiribati, where agriculture can face even greater challenges, the IFAD-supported initiative OIFWP enabled 42-year-old Teakontaake Teata to earn more and feed her family better through integrated farming.

Increasing one’s daily vegetable consumption can reduce the risk of NCDs, including oesophageal cancer by 28.5 per cent and stroke by 23.2 per cent. And so armed with a recipe book and training provided by the project, Teakontaake grows vegetables and cooks nutritious meals, helping to control her diabetes and high blood pressure, and to earn almost US$100 a month by selling the excess produce to a local guesthouse.

This way, Teakontaake and members of her community are ensuring that, despite the severe climate change impacts and a landscape that is unsuitable to farming, everyone can enjoy healthy, locally-grown food that nourishes their bodies.