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Agriculture, nutrition and health in the Solomon Islands

Rapid scan examines the agriculture–nutrition nexus in the Solomon Islands

March 22, 2016

Some revealing insights into food and nutrition challenges in the Solomon Islands were reported to the National Forum on Agriculture and Nutritional Security on 9 March 2016. This was led by Dr C. Dustin Becker, Leeroy Joshua and Dorothy Tavoa of the School of Natural Resources and Applied Sciences from the Solomon Islands National University who did a rapid country scan on the agriculture nutrition nexus in 2015. The scan was commissioned by CTA and provided an excellent snapshot of the policies and programmes in the nation.

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The 24 stakeholders from government, research, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector heard that 33% of children under five years are malnourished, 49% are iron deficient, 44% of mothers are anaemic, and almost 94% of islanders ate less than the recommended five servings of fruit and vegetables daily. Non-communicable diseases and vitamin, protein and mineral deficiencies are common. Excess consumption of ‘empty-calorie’ foods is leading to obesity and increased diabetes in the population: 67% are overweight, 33% are obese and 13.5% are diabetic. “People sell fruits to buy noodles and rice”.

Map 360Dr Dusti Becker, Dean of the School of Natural Resources and Applied Sciences said, “All of [the Forum participants] learned some new and useful information and agreed that the rapid scan covered the major policies and the most important projects involving agriculture and nutrition.” The Forum also heard that the historical emphasis on increasing food supply had failed to consider the nexus between agriculture and nutrition. The assumption that producing more food will automatically lead to increased local consumption of those foods may be false. The sustainability of rural and urban livelihoods and nutritional health in the Solomon Islands is challenged by population growth (the population grew from 95,000 in the 1950s to more than 600,000 in 2015), the effects of climate change (such as changing intensity and timing of rainfall) and the high cost of providing public services to rural communities (which are widely dispersed over nearly 1,000 islands).

In the Solomon Islands it is clear that gender has an important role in nutrition and agriculture. Over 60% of Solomon Island women have never attended school, yet they head 53% of the households. Women make the major decisions about what foods they provide to their family, especially to babies and young children. They also decide what to grow in home gardens and are more likely to be in charge of selling produce at local markets. They are often the ones doing the physical labour to grow crops.

The rapid scan demonstrated that the government has an excellent policy on food and nutritional security (SIG 2010-2015), with clearly articulated objectives. The Ministries of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) Development, Fisheries and Marine Resources, and Health and Medical Services have active programmes, and they collaborate with each other and with various NGOs. For example, a 2015 agreement between several ministries and representatives of food industries aims to fortify flour and rice with iron, folic acid and zinc. However, MAL projects lacked health indicators for tracking progress and funding seemed low when compared with that of NGOs and not enough people are reached.

As far as international support goes, several NGOs (e.g. Oxfam and Live and Learn) operate in the country implementing a range of projects focused on food and nutritional security issues associated with climate change adaptation or disaster relief. Several NGOS track agricultural indicators such as increase in the availability of nutritious foods grown locally, increase in sale of nutritious foods and decrease in the use of imported foods. The Kastom Gaden Association (KGA) monitors multiple agricultural indicators and monitors the weights of babies. World Vision Solomon Islands (WVSI) ensures that children and care-givers are well nourished and monitors two agricultural indicators and several health indicators, weight of babies and children, and decline in stunting and anaemia. WorldFish has a strong focus on protein security and provides assistance with aquaculture which is integrated with agriculture and family farming. The Worldwide Fund for Nature and The Nature Conservancy, along with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources assist communities with developing marine protected areas and using fish aggregation devices in order to sustain inshore fisheries.

Some of the challenges identified by project managers include sustaining community engagement, better targeting of agricultural interventions so that mothers are directly reached and the “spoiled by donors” syndrome where communities are less engaged. Internationally funded food and nutritional security programmes must continue to complement and enhance traditional practice. This will reduce the dietary deficiencies resulting from globalisation, imports of high-calorie carbs and highly salted foods, rural-to-urban flight and pressures associated with population growth and climate change. However, more collaboration, closing data gaps, better monitoring  and trend analyses, standardisation of indicators, and increased outreach to women and family farmers are recommended. There is a need to build on existing national policies to encourage and guide stakeholders in improving food and nutritional security using agriculture, including fisheries, aquaculture, food industry, trade, education and health sector approaches that are interconnected. Government and all stakeholders including donors and the international development community must work together. 

Resources

CTA has so far commissioned 18 rapid scans on the agriculture–nutrition nexus in African, Caribbean and Pacific countries, in addition to the 10 country case studies on the food and nutrition security situation that were commissioned in 2014. The food and nutrition security rapid scans and case studies will be available as CTA Working Papers.

• Download the report "Building the Evidence Base for the Agriculture-Nutrition Nexus: A Rapid Country Scan of Policy & Practice in the Solomon Islands"
• Download the Framework for joint action by the European Union, FAO, the World Bank Group and CTA on "Agriculture and nutrition: A common future"
• Read the article on Building the evidence base for the agriculture–nutrition nexus in Samoa
• Read more about CTA's work on the agriculture–nutrition nexus
• Follow the conversation on Twitter via #CTAnutrition.