Bananas, Tradition and Adaptation to Climate Change in Vanuatu

Vanuatu is sitting at the cutting edge of climate change, and not only because it is feeling the impacts more than anywhere else on the globe! What makes Vanuatu special is its inherent adaptability to the changes, not least because of its well developed and intact cultural and traditional practices. This week saw the revitalization of some of these ancient practices to help communities around the country adapt to the new effects of climate change!

When we think of climate change, what most often springs to mind are rising sea levels and eroding coastlines. While this is certainly happening in Vanuatu, so too are a myriad of other changes that affect our animals, our buildings, our families and our crops. Bananas are particularly sensitive to damage caused by strong winds. Often bananas are the first crops to be destroyed during Vanuatu’s common tropical cyclones, and climate change is augmenting this threat. Because bananas are so important to our diet, a strong cyclone can wipe out nearly all an areas’ bananas, and severely affect the food security of thousands of people.

But because the people of Vanuatu and the wider Pacific have been living with cyclones since these islands have been inhabited, many traditional practices have emerged to help communities cope. The SPC-GIZ Climate Change Vanuatu program, in collaboration with the Australian Pacific Technical college, and the community of Teouma Futuna have been working to revive, reintroduce and document several traditional banana climate adaptation techniques. This week, two adaptation techniques, which have been the subject of months of trials, were handed over to the Government’s Department of Meteorology and Geohazards as well as numerous local NGOs to be unscaled throughout the country.

The “Mara Technique”, developed by the people of Futuna Island, is a method for preserving unripe banana for over 2 years. On Futuna it is common practice that a small percentage of bananas are preserved for times of cyclone and subsequent famine. The preserved bananas, once carefully drained and buried, can be later mixed with coconut and recooked years later. Participants at the handing over event were given the chance to taste the delicacy, which has the consistency of cheese, and a distinctly sweet flavour. Isso Nimhei worked closely with Futuna elders to document the Mara technique and develop a Bislama-language guidebook and manual so that anyone in Vanuatu can begin to preserve bananas in anticipation of more severe impacts from cyclones from climate change in the future.

Another traditional technique for banana adaptation was introduced to Vanuatu from the nation of Samoa by GIZ-APTC intern Joseph Afa who learned the practice from his elders back home. The “Laufasi Technique”is a rapid propagation method used to ensure the viability of banana plantations after droughts, cyclones and adverse weather events. With a single banana shoot, the Laufasi methods allows farmers to gain up to 50 new planting sprouts. This adaptation is especially helpful in the case of a strong cyclone wiping out most of an areas’ banana stock, and the ability to replant a whole new plantation with a single standing stem! Participants at the handing over, including the CEO of APTC Vanuatu, had the chance to get their hands dirty and practice the method themselves with the help of local Laufasi experts.

The SPC-GIZ program aims to make practical and locally appropriate climate change adaptation technologies available to the thousands of farmers across Vanuatu now feeling the effects of climate change. Dr Andrina Thomas, of Live and Learn, noted that “these are the types of climate change adaptations that really work and are already making a difference in the lives of Pacific island people suffering from climate change”. The banana adaptation techniques were recently presented to climate change and agricultural experts at the National Agro-Meteorology Summit on Tanna, where the Director General of the Ministry of Climate Change expressed his excitement on the opportunities for upscalling throughout Vanuatu.

Both the Mara and Laufasi techniques have been turned into Bislama-language and picture-supported manuals and guidebooks by the SPC-GIZ program, which may be freely downloaded at: http://www.nab.vu/projects/coping-climate-change-pacific-island-region-spc-giz

For more information on climate change adaptation in Vanuatu, contact SPC-GIZ Climate Change Vanuatu at VanuatuClimateChange@gmail.com or visit the NAB online Portal www.nab.vu.