Wicking beds growing food in Tuvalu
Biofilta just returned from another successful trip to Tuvalu where we are assisting in a DFAT funded, Tuvalu Food Futures project. Food security is a major issue in Tuvalu with local conditions making food production a huge challenge. As is the case in most atoll nations, soil in Tuvalu is extremely sandy, has little carbon content and is highly alkaline. As a result, soils struggles to retain water and nutrients. Tuvalu also has an average above sea level height of 1.83 metres which makes high tides and extreme weather events disastrous for productive lands which frequently become inundated with salt water. These events are likely to become more severe and frequent with sea level rise and the impacts of a changing climate. Biofilta is working with international organisations such as ACIAR, SPC, CSIRO and the University of Tasmania to bring the best minds and products together to tackle the challenges of food security on atolls.
The effects of food insecurity are already being felt in Tuvalu. A lack of access to fresh, nutritious produce is contributing to high rates of non-communicable diseases and dental issues. Tuvalu is almost completely reliant on regular shipments of food from Fiji and, as a result, any disturbance in these supply changes can leave Tuvalu extremely vulnerable to food shortages. In 2018, Biofilta began testing the efficacy of our wicking bed systems in homes and community garden sites throughout Funafuti, Tuvalu’s capital. Our wicking systems are raised and sealed to prevent salt water intrusion, retain water, and prevent loss of nutrient through leaching. In short, our wicking beds resolve the main challenges faced by food growers in Tuvalu. The trial period was a success so we are moving forward with the supply and installation of more wicking garden beds to Tuvalu.
The purpose of our most recent visit was twofold; to monitor the progress of the home and community gardens that we established over a year ago and to provide technical assistance for the first installation of our newest wicking garden bed, the Foodcube. One of our partners in this project is Live and Learn, an NGO dedicated to promoting environmental education in the Asia Pacific Region. Live and Learn’s Tuvalu rep Teuleala Manuela was an amazing host and showed us around the home and community gardens on Funafuti. It was great to see home gardeners growing all sorts of veggies in their wicking beds. We saw people growing Chinese cabbages, cucumbers, tomatoes, eggplants, chillies and spring onions. We also visited the demonstration garden at the University of the South Pacific (USP) campus where John Kennedy, our gardening champion, has been growing fresh veggies for the community. This site will be used as a teaching tool of students at USP.
A scaled-up community farm 30 minutes by boat in Funafala is being constructed using our newest wicking garden bed, the Foodcube. The site on Funafala is currently housing 75 Foodcubes and is set to become a market garden which will provide significant amounts of fresh produce to Funafuti. This farm is part of a broader project undertaken by the Kaupule (local council) and the Ministry of Agriculture to revitalise Tuvalu’s fresh product market. Biofilta performed an in-depth demonstration to farmers and agriculture workers on how the Foodcube works, how to install them and technical insights on how to best make use of the site and the process was filmed by an ACIAR documentary team accompanying the group. We are very excited to see the progress of this farm and with any luck it will be pumping out food for the community in no time.
A big thanks to all those people who made us feel welcome in Tuvalu and made the trip a great success.
Stay tuned for more updates on this project soon!