Communities of Vanuatu recovering from the devastating agricultural impacts of Cyclone Pam now face the potential of water shortages and agricultural drought in the coming months due to the shift to an El Nino Sothern Oscillation (ENSO) climate event.

The Risk and Resilience Unit (RRU) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries, Forestry and Biosecurity (MALFFB) has sourced funding to deliver information materials through extension officers who beginning Thursday last week travelled to all islands in Shefa province and Tafea province to assist subsistence farmers to build their resilience to ENSO weather events, whilst simultaneously identifying locations where priority agricultural and food security relief, recovery and rehabilitation programs after cyclone Pam are most needed.

This project comes under the MALFFB Medium and Long Term Recovery Plan within Work Program 6: Prioritized capacity building, training and entrepreneurship, in particular Work Program 6 which identifies support the extension services of MALFFB as a priority project.

This short-duration activity aims to rapidly identify agricultural and food security relief/recovery/rehabilitation hotspots and remaining needs at community/island level in the aftermath of Cyclone Pam, as well as identifying opportunities for reducing risks posed by the El Nino climate event.

“We identified and conducted assessments on hotspots recovering after cyclone Pam and also assess the impact of El Nino on Agriculture and the communities, for Aneityum these includes Anelcauhat, Umej and Port Patrick,” an extension officer from the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development told Daily Post.

“The team met and conducted interviews with chiefs, community leaders and villagers. We also distributed seeds, ranging from watermelon, cucumber, lettuce and others which the Food and Security Cluster is distributing and leaflets on how to raise the seedlings to assist the communities.

“We also disseminated information leaflets on El Nino, targeting how to adapt when there is no rain, for instance mulching and intercropping ,both already used by the people of Aneityum so they are encouraged to plant now when the country is still experiencing rainfall before the dry season.

“The Department is also considering allocating a Field Assistant on Aneityum to assist the people. Some areas such as Umej and Port Patrick have no information on El Nino because there is no radio. But now that they know, they will now prepare, they have rivers and traditional knowledge to help them through.

“We also distributed 200 different varieties of kumala cuttings to a farmer, Mr. Michael Shing who will plant and later share it with other people who are interested people. We are working with the Vanuatu Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Sector Strengthening Program to run trainings to up skill people who ply their trade in tourism, but can also sell their crops, value-adding and processing their products and selling it to tourists.”

Water taro grows well on Umej and kava, on Anelcauhat where there is also a swamp, vegetables, cassava and water taro grows well and on Port Patrick generally everything, including grapes.

Meanwhile the Ministry’s RRU is coordinating an integrated team of government extension officers, NGOs, church groups, and development partners to undertake a rapid identification of residual Cyclone Pam vulnerability hotspots, as well as disseminating contextualized information to farmers on how to plan and prepare for the recently announced El Nino climate event.

The risk identification team will, via a process of expert observation and local knowledge, cover the following informational areas:

• Cyclone Pam agriculture/food security-specific recovery activities that have been undertaken by stakeholders in an area, that is the replanting of gardens, repair of fishing gears, destocking of livestock and milling downed timber.

• Major remaining gaps in agricultural recovery from Cyclone Pam, and time expected to regain basic food security Specific risks to the community from the upcoming El Nino climate event.

• The existence of community structures or projects that may support cyclone recovery and drought preparedness activities, for example, CDCCCs or vegetable nurseries.

To reduce data collection and compilation time, the information was collected on smart phone and tablets using a template created on Kobo Toolbox. , enabling the quick and easy input of data from a series of user-friendly drop down lists and multiple choice answers.

In addition, a simple SMS-based, quiz-like survey will be conducted with all Digicel users on all islands.

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