Home gardening in Kiribati brings innovation and change

By: Josephine Reiher (Gender and Youth Officer, OIFWP ) and Monica Romano

Ata in her home garden. Credit: A. Aruee  

Life in the rural area of the outer islands of Kiribati can be challenging. A number of families who migrated to Tarawa have now returned to their home islands as a result of an increasing cost of copra. However, making a living from agriculture is difficult as families share small pieces of land and most of the youth have limited employment opportunities, also due to poor education.

The IFAD-supported Outer Island Food and Water Project (OIFWP) came into force in September 2014. Targeting the four outer islands of Abebama, Beru, North Tabiteuea and Nonouti, it promotes improved household food security and nutrition, as well as clean water through rainwater harvesting and community planning and action activities. The project aims to reach the entire population with a specific focus on women and young people.

Based on a consultative process in the  Tanimainiku village, in the island of Abemama, a Community Development Plan was formulated,  and  Community Committee was established to support activities in the village.

Ata Tangatariki, 30, is a young woman, who lives with her family in the Tanimainiku village. She lives with her parents, two married sisters with kids, and a brother who is still in high school. Ata participated in the induction meeting of the project and contributed to the design of the Community Development Plan. She was also selected as a member of the Community Committee.

To be eligible for becoming a Community Committee member a person living in the target villages is required to have a garden in his/her home, which can be used as a model to show interested people in the community how to properly grow and maintain it. The Committee established that project staff would visit the home gardens every two weeks to provide advice and help the farmers. Ata’s family grows three different gardens, which are taken care of by her father, mother and herself.

Before the project was introduced in their village, Ata’s family used to grow only banana, swamp taro and breadfruit because of limited agricultural knowledge, hence their diet was poor, and lacking important nutrients from vegetables. As a result of project-supported home gardening activities, they now grow cabbages, sweet potatos, tomatoes, pawpaw, new breadfruit types, pumpkins and kangkong (water spinach). Their dietary habits consequently changed and they now eat a greater quantity and variety of nutritious food.

Ata also tried to find other ways to support her family economically and found out that growing vegetables and fruit in the home gardens has many advantages: it helps coping with food shortages, often occurring due to undelivered cargo supplies to the Outer Islands and can also help generate additional income.

By selling her fruit and vegetables locally, Ata is able to earn about USD 1.9 for each cabbage and about USD 2.3 per kilo of sweet potatoes. She can also sell the bigger pawpaw and pumpkin for about USD 3.8 each. On average, she estimated she can earn around USD 7.5 per day from her fruits and vegetables – something the family was unable to rely on before.

Her major plan for the future is to do more to showcase her garden products to the communities across the island, and  encourage them to engage in gardening by sharing her skills and experience. She believes that a good way to attract the youngsters in farming is by organizing competitions, with some incentives for those growing the biggest or heaviest fruits and vegetables in the community. This activity has been agreed upon by the community committee and will be commenced during the World Food Day in October this year.

Ata is very proud to be involved in the Project, both as a farmer and a community leader. It has changed her view on farming, improved her family’s food security and nutrition, and  taught her new gardening and leadership skills through the help of the Community Facilitator Officers, the Agricultural Assistants and the Island Facilitators working for the project. She believes that the project has provided a major contribution to raise the profile of agriculture, especially among  young people, and brought about innovation and change in the life of rural communities.

Participating in the community consultations, becoming a community committee member and engaging in home gardening greatly encouraged her and helped her learn an important lesson: farming can make you change your future.