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Small Deeds Have Great Merit: Success of Horticulture Project in Kiribati Expanding Diplomacy

Small Deeds Have Great Merit: Success of Horticulture Project in Kiribati Expanding Diplomacy

To help address the nutritional, health and other issues associated with Kiribati’s long-term dependence on imported foods, as well as raise yields of locally grown crops, the TaiwanICDF’s Horticulture Project has been having a significant effect despite its relatively small scale, gradually encouraging local citizens to consume vegetables, and improving nutrition and the overall state of the nation’s health.

In recent years, the project has also enabled farmers working the nation’s limited farmland to generate annual revenues of around NT$2.5 million, with results growing sustainably by 30 percent each year. As such, the project has captured the attention of a number of international organizations, and particularly the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which previously led a fact-finding delegation to learn about the venture, and which now plans to replicate the same operating model on four of Kiribati’s outer islands, thus continuing to promote the project’s influence.

For many years, the incidence of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and strokes in Kiribati has been as high as 69 percent, with the mortality rate for diabetes being the highest in the South Pacific.

To assist local citizens in adjusting their eating habits and to promote improved intake of fruits and vegetables, from 2004 the TaiwanICDF began to implement its Horticulture Project, dividing the initiative into two phases. The first phase, which ran from 2004 to 2011, focused as its objective on “creating demand for planting,” including through the establishment of demonstration farms, the distribution of free vegetable seedlings, and the promotion of cookery classes.

As part of the project’s second phase, which is running from 2011 to 2014, the Taiwan Technical Mission in Kiribati has been working with local farmers to pass on the skills that they need to become self-sufficient, as well as assisting in the establishment of seedling nurseries and sales centers. With the addition of developing sales channels among local restaurants and supermarkets, these operations have together established a complete supply chain for the sale of fruits and vegetables.

With this second phase more or less complete, local people have now developed a habit for eating fresh vegetables, while local farmers have been generating AUS$85,000 (about NT$2.5 million) in annual revenues through the operation of nurseries and sales centers, with yearly growth of such activities running at 30 percent.

In terms of crop production, the reasons for the project’s success have included the assistance in establishing seedling nurseries, which has provided a stable source of vegetable seedlings, as well as the selection of a suitable range of varieties suitable for short-term cultivation on Pacific islands, which have been cultivated using organic planting and crop rotation methods. This has reduced the risk of pest infestation and increased local options for a balanced and varied diet.

In terms of consumption of fruits and vegetables, much of the project’s success has been down to the efforts of the Taiwan Technical Mission, whose members have been promoting cookery classes for more than nine years, training seed teachers with the aim of promoting recipes that use the vegetables grown as part of the project. Inviting I-Kiribati women to participate in cooking classes has also done much to improve acceptance among local people.

During an evening party held by the Taiwanese embassy in Kiribati to mark Taiwan’s National Day on October 4, I-Kiribati President Anote Tong made a point of thanking Taiwan and the Taiwan Technical Mission for their contribution to Kiribati’s agriculture and fishing sectors, while Tiarite Kwong, the I-Kiribati minister for environment, land and agricultural development, went on to praise the Horticulture Project for changing the eating habits of local people. He said that the project had been having a big effect despite its relatively small scale, allowing fruits and vegetables to emerge and grow up from local soils despite the nation’s limited coverage of farmland, and thus put food on the country’s tables.

IFAD, too, has been so impressed with the project’s methods that it now plans to invite Taiwan to participate in its own Outer Islands Food and Water Project to be implemented on four outer islands, replicating a number of the Taiwanese project’s components – including seedling nurseries, compost production, vegetable cookery and egg production – with the ultimate aim of improving the local living environment. It’s likely that the project will benefit more than just people in Kiribati, as it will also allow Taiwan to cooperate with a UN-affiliated organization, and thereby enhance the country’s international visibility.

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  • Date:2014/12/16