Climate-Proofing the Solomon Islands

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By Kamaria Greenfield

The Solomon Islands—992 of them in total—form a low-lying archipelago in the Southwest Pacific Ocean. The total land area of the islands is slightly less than that of Maryland, and the inhabited third of the islands are home to over a half million people. Because the islands are so close to sea level, rising water levels—likely a result of climate change—are taking their toll on both the people and the geography of the Islands.

Small, low-lying islands like the one in the background are among the most vulnerable. (Photo credit: AFP)

Increasing soil salinity, for example, is killing taro roots, ferns, and other subsistence crops that coastal communities in the Islands depend on for food and income. Erratic weather patterns mean more of the droughts and floods that can compromise the productivity of inland fields. Tropical cyclones such as Namu, which devastated the Solomon Islands rice industry in 1986, are another issue. Rising sea levels and the gradual erosion of coasts also reduce the amount of land that can be cultivated.

But efforts are underway to “climate-proof” the islands, ensuring food security as both the temperature and the waters rise. Earlier this month, the Solomon Islands received a US$4.3 million grant from Australia. This money will be used to repair infrastructure, such as the roads destroyed by floods in 2010, and make them less vulnerable to extreme weather in the future. “Strengthening infrastructure against climate change is critical to ensuring rural communities easily have easy access to their workplaces, farms, schools, and other essential services,” said Robert Wihtol, Director General of the Asian Development Bank’s Pacific Department.

Foreign assistance has also come from Israel, who is working on a development project specifically with the Malaita province. Israel’s International Development Cooperation Agency (MASHAV) is working to improve the agriculture, aquaculture, and other sectors. The plan was introduced at the Malaita conference last November, and specialists from Israel first arrived in the Solomon Islands in March. “Malaita Province is eyeing growth centres, and Israel has the appropriate models that can be adopted locally,” said Mr. Leliana Firisua, Honorary Consul of Israel in Solomon Islands.

In the most recent project, farmers are learning to keep their crops healthy with climate-resilient farming techniques. Although the details of these techniques are not yet known, it is likely that they will include what has worked in other locations: the isolation of crop species tolerant of high salinity, high rainfall, and drought. The project also plans to establish crop fields to be used as food banks during floods and droughts. This endeavor is special because it is the first in the Pacific to be financed by the Kyoto Protocol Adaptation Fund. In an interview with Pacific Beat, Rence Sore, the Permanent Secretary of Solomon Islands Ministry of Environment, Climate Change, Disaster Management and Meteorology, said that “We are working with farmers to look at their situation when it comes to food security, what problems they are facing…and respond to the needs of the communities.”

For the small island nations on the front lines of climate change, these programs can offer the hope of a future dictated not by the rising tides, but by the efforts made in the coming years to create resilience among farmers to climate change.

Kamaria Greenfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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