COVID-19 and the World of Work

Feeding the future of Tonga

Through the Informal Economies Recovery Project, IFAD is supporting a range of agricultural development activities across Tonga, including supporting the investment in seedlings for homestead gardens to improve food security.

Project documentation | 24 July 2021
MORDITT trainers prepare to teach locals in ‘Eua how to create vegetable seedbeds for their home garden
The International Fund for Agricultural Development [IFAD] invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, it has provided US$23.2 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached an estimated 518 million people. IFAD is an international financial institution and a United Nations specialized agency based in Rome – the United Nations food and agriculture hub.

Through the Informal Economies Recovery Project, IFAD is supporting a range of agricultural development activities across Tonga, including supporting the investment in seedlings for homestead gardens to improve food security.

The story below documents critical work happening in ‘Eua and Vava’u in Tonga, through IFAD’s close partner on the ground - Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovation Tonga Trust [MORDITT].

A team was dispatched to ‘Eua and Vava’u alongside resources to expand the existing nursery Molipeli to create seedbeds for vegetable seedlings for distribution to women’s homestead gardens in target communities. These seedlings include tomatoes, lettuce, bell peppers (capsicum) and bok choy.

The team has been able to distribute the seedlings to target communities’ women’s groups and included demonstration of creating seed beds, planting and maintaining these gardens. These engagements also continue in mainland Tonga as well. It was during engagement in the island of ‘Eua that the team was called upon to assist creating seedbeds of vegetable seedlings for the Queen on ‘Eua’s royal palace Heilala Tangitangi.

The World Food Programme (WFP) began mobile Vulnerability Analysis Mapping (mVAM) that gave periodic updates on food security and livelihoods in Tonga since COVID-19 began.

The following observations have been made from the study:
  • Rural levels of acceptable food consumption were significantly lower than urban areas, with 71% of rural households considered to have acceptable food consumption in November, compared to 85% in urban areas. Rural areas also had the highest micro-nutritional deficiencies: 32% low for Vitamin A, 37% for Haem Iron (9% of which reported no consumption at all) and 24% low protein intake, with 1% reporting no protein intake at all;
  • November reported food consumption deteriorating both for urban and rural households, though rural households fared significantly worse. For rural households, acceptable levels of consumption were 84% in September, 100% in October and 85% in November, whereas for urban households the decline in acceptable levels were less pronounced but significant, with 87% in September, 100% in October and 85% in November;
  • Borderline food consumption was reported 14% in November for urban households compared to rural households (25%) however in September 12% of urban households had poor food consumption. As consumption deteriorated, rural households reported the highest risks of macro and micro-nutritional deficiencies. Rural households recorded 75% regular protein in November (compared to 84% for urban). Rural households’ iron intake was similar to urban in October, but intake declined in November to 39% with 9% consumption and 30% reporting low intake of Haem iron. Women of Haveluliku join in as MORDI staff deliver training of setting up homestead gardens at a home.
Tonga is one of the most at-risk nations to the effects of climate change that impacts land production. Tonga is currently experiencing La Nina with heavy precipitation periods even exceeding predicted season for the phenomenon. The global pandemic has also created stressors on rural households whose livelihoods are based on agriculture and fisheries. By in large the work carried out by MORDI TT has been to build social protection against these shocks.

Component 2 of TRIP II being implemented by MORDI TT funded through IFAD and working alongside many other working partners, looks at strengthening and increasing resilience of economic livelihoods based on climate smart agricultural production systems and agroforestry-based handicrafts. Most importantly to note are works under this component at an output level are to Improve practices for increased climate resilience of agroforestry systems on households’ tax allotments and homestead gardens that target men, women, youth and the disabled.

These resilience building interventions are embedded in a holistic, participatory approach that engages the communities to plan and design their priorities that produces Community Development Plans (CDP’s). While the CDP’s do not explicitly outline Climate Change and Disaster Risk Management strategies the processes that inform the communities of their vulnerabilities are in place. The priorities themselves are borne of climate change and disaster responses and in all aspects and proponents of TRIP II they are gender, youth and disability sensitive.
The biggest take away lesson from these engagements have been by far how Tongan’s interpretation of labels differ greatly from a well-defined framework created outside of these contexts. It has been clear that a one size fit all framework simply cannot be forced upon the people if they do not deem it necessary. The vulnerabilities of communities are greatly different due to geographical dispersal of the Tongan islands and its geological characteristics.

However, the underlying issues of food insecurity draws back to affordable agricultural input for rural households. MORDI TT in TRIP II phase has dispersed multitudes of vegetable seedlings for women’s homestead gardens (including open pollinated seeds that allows them to regrow from seeds), new varieties of cultivars to tax allotments that are climate and pest resilient and have shorter harvest cycles such as the Peruvian Manioc that is ready to harvest in 3 months and preserves much better than the traditional varieties.

There has been many training with these participants that involves building capacity around food systems and climate smart agriculture and its connectedness to conservation of the environment and sustainability. By increasing the community’s access to food – the long-term benefit would be the chances to react adversely to any shocks be it climatic or economic, will be minimal.

The WFP report above also highlights nutritional issues that have long plagued the Tongan isles. As one of the countries to have had struggled with nutrition related diseases such as cardio vascular and Non-Communicable Diseases, it is essential that access to nutritional foods at household levels is fortified. TRIP II engages with Mai e Nima program, planted citrus orchards on ‘Eua primary schools that teaches students the importance of nutrition among other projects it has implemented which addresses heightened awareness around better nutrition and food security. MORDI TT has delivered vegetables from our home garden demo to our friends at the Alonga centre for the disabled Our ongoing relationship with this institution has been one where we are able to promote disability awareness