Members of Dr Ashley McGuigan’s research team during their research in 2018 and 2019. Picture: Supplied
By SOPHIE NORRIS
KNOWLEDGE exchange across the Pacific can further enhance and restore important practices that support resilience to natural disasters, says University of Hawaii research Dr Ashley McGuigan on a recent visit to The University of the South Pacific’s Laucala campus in Suva.
Dr McGuigan presented her research findings on agroforestry in Fiji at a seminar and hoped it would help address environmental issues following natural disasters.
While her research was specific to what made agroforestry systems reliant as well as areas to improve capacities, Dr McGuigan said analysis also focused on Fiji’s agroforestry resilience following Severe Tropical Cyclone (STC) Winston in 2016.
“Agroforestry is a farming technique that combines crops and trees in the same area. My research centered on agroforestry’s effectiveness after natural disasters like cyclones,” she said.
“The methodology involved comparing whether agroforests could yield the same amount of food before and after natural disasters such as Severe Tropical Cyclone Winston.
“While my primary focus was on Fiji, the findings have the potential to be applied to other locations in the South Pacific.”
This knowledge exchange has the potential to assist other cyclone-prone countries in the Pacific such as Vanuatu.
While Vanuatu was not hit by STC Winston, it was affected by Cyclone Pam just one year earlier in 2015. Ni-Vanuatu USP student Atis Melio was living with his family in Vanuatu when Cyclone Pam struck.
“The house we were sleeping in wasn’t very strong, so it [the cyclone] blew off half our house,” he shared.
But the biggest challenge that Mr Melio and his family faced was access to adequate supply of food and water.
“Most of the crops in our garden were damaged and we were scared to live in starvation. But because our root crops remained, we survived on them,” said Mr Melio.
The root crops Mr Melo refers to include cassava, yam and dalo. These are the same root crops that Dr McGuigan calls ‘emergency foods’ after she identified that they remained abundant even after disasters in Fiji.
However, Dr McGuigan warns about the importance of each South Pacific community deciding what was best for them.
“Needs for agroforestry vary by cultural context, and I think it’s important that those decisions about what to adopt or incorporate be made by people from those places,” she said.
Ni-Vanuatu activist Stephanie Ephraim believes community support is a priority for the communities of Vanuatu.
“I believe in community support because if we’re depending too much on international aid then we are really not doing much for ourselves,” she said.
Ms Ephraim gained this experience after feeling the effects of Cyclone Kevin herself, which devasted Vanuatu earlier this year.
“All Pacific Islands need to make sure they do not lose their connection to their community, because when you end up in these types of situations, it’s always your community who will help you,” she said.
This coincides with what Dr McGuigan calls the biggest learning from her PhD research.
“Of all the agroforestry lessons learned, the most valuable lesson has been the importance of community and veiqaravi,” she said.
Rahul Prasad, a research fellow in Pacific adaption to climate change, says this innovative research is key to making changes in government policy.
He said this would help policymakers understand the impact that research could make before “putting it into policy to work out how we will drive our country”.
Sophie Norris is an international student from Australia studying journalism and communication at The University of the South Pacific. She is the recipient of a 2022 New Colombo Plan Scholarship, a prestigious scholarship awarded by the Australian government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade that gives Australian university students the opportunity to study and intern in the Pacific region. She was the sports editor for Wansolwara, the USP Journalism Programme’s student training newspaper and online publication.