An assessment of the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security: A case study in Vanuatu

Vanuatu is highly vulnerable to all natural hazards including tropical cyclone, storm surge, coastal flood, river flood, drought, earthquake, landslide, tsunami and volcanic eruption. Impacts from these events will be inequitably spread throughout the islands, with localized areas on low-lying islands and areas experiencing subsidence due to tectonic and volcanic processes being the most severely affected.

The impacts of climate change and increased carbon dioxide concentrations on plant growth, productivity and the nutrient value of crops commonly grown in Vanuatu is not well understood. However, general knowledge of possible impacts suggests changes may be detrimental to agricultural production and hence national food security. Both commercial and subsistence agriculture in Vanuatu are based on rain-fed agricultural production systems. Changes in rainfall, and in particular the projected scenario of overall rainfall decline, a greater proportion of rainfall falling in association with high intensity storm events during the wet season, increased evaporation and more pronounced dry seasons, could have severe impacts on agricultural production. Intense rainfall during planting seasons could damage seedlings, reduce growth and provide conditions that promote plant pests and diseases. More pronounced dry seasons, warmer temperatures and greater evaporation could cause plant stress reducing productivity and harvests. The alternate scenario of increased rainfall could have equally severe impacts, with water-logged soils decreasing agricultural production, while increased humidity and rainfall could provide ideal conditions for the proliferation of a number of plant pathogens. Some agricultural crops are already showing signs of stress under current climatic conditions. Water scarce areas and small islands that depend entirely on rainwater and under groundwater sources are also experiencing severe water shortages. 

Coastal erosion and inundation are reported from coastal communities and fish poisoning has been an emerging problem in recent years. These problems will be aggravated by any further changes to current climatic conditions. And while some progress has been made in recent years to understand and appropriately address climate change issues, there is currently limited data to enable Vanuatu
to plan effective responses to climate change impacts.

Although Vanuatu has benefited from participation in a number of regional and national climate change projects in the past ten years or so, these have had limited long term impacts due to the lack of government funding to maintain staff positions and continue awareness raising at all levels. Government agencies focus on immediate and practical priority issues and have difficulty maintaining levels of service necessary to effectively address long term issues such as climate change. Hence, while recognizing the long term importance of reducing GHG emissions and preparing for climate
change, it has been difficult for the government to take the longer term economic decisions necessary to effectively deal with the issue. This situation is unlikely to change soon and as a consequence, Vanuatu will continue to look at its development partners and UN organizations for assistance to adapt to climate change.

Document Tabs