Vutitkalulu Centre for Sustainable Technology and Rural Development
This is one of 50 Harvesting Nutrition project case studies. Harvesting Nutrition was a contest held in 2012 and 2013 that showcased active projects working to improve the impact of agriculture and/or food security on nutrition outcomes. Co-sponsors were SecureNutrition, Save the Children UK, and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN). Learn More.
The project takes a holistic approach to eliminate poor health, poverty and poor opportunities in rural areas of Fiji. These problems lead to young people drifting to cities or abusing kava/ marijuana/ home brew. Only 15% of the population is expected to live over 60 years and 77% die of NCDS. We demonstrate how rural life can be improved in terms of better health and standard of living cheaply and sustainably by living in harmony with the environment. Our model is empowering, showing people what can be achieved rather than imposing solutions. The project, run by and for indigenous Fijians, aims to effect lasting change by giving communities the tools to assess their needs and make changes they see as important. It links communities with information available on the Internet from projects around the world who are effecting change and helps try out various models used to see their relevance in the Fiji environment. The emphasis is practical - learning by doing, research by trying things out.
We encourage healthy eating and food security by demonstrating ways of growing a variety of fruit, vegetables and root crops, and rearing animals so that they can feed their family first and sell surplus rather than growing a mono-crop and selling it to buy imported processed food. We do this through a model organic farm. We choose organic methods as inexpensive and good for your health. We encourage self-sufficiency, building using locally sourced sustainable materials and self-generated energy.
We will go on to build an information centre and school. The school will provide free education for those unable to afford conventional secondary schooling and want to stay in rural areas and farm. We will teach sustainable farming, building and energy production.
Impact of project:
The project is set up to learn how to farm in a sustainable way. We encourage continuous learning; mixing local young people with volunteers from around the world, learning from each other. We believe in learning by doing, finding out, hands-on, how to achieve what you want.
We are learning to grow resilient crops and animals but also how to grow resilient farmers. Sustainability means keeping going when things continually seem to go wrong. In Fiji that means keeping going despite land disputes, cyclones destroying crops, poor harvests, animals die, theft, people leaving. We can learn to grow a variety of fruit and vegetables to provide a nutritious diet including those foods which are currently imported.
We translate information available at the university level so that farmers who may not have a secondary level education and/or basic English skills can understand and carry it out. We are developing “how to do it” guides with diagrams rather than writing. Our work on food groups and simple terracing are linked below.
Overcoming resistance is important. Schools don’t tend to encourage curiosity/ experimentation. They teach chemical methods mono-crop farming. Subsistence farming which is what most people do is ignored. It takes perseverance/persistence to see results.
Why this project is a Good Practice example:
In Fiji, agriculture is the front line of the fight for better health and food security. For example NCDs are a big problem, being the cause of 77% of deaths. Diabetes alone is estimated to affect 1 in 4 adults. Although largely an agricultural nation, Fiji imports much of its food e.g. 71% of the fat consumed 68% of the calories and 60% of protein. Even farmers prefer to eat imported junk food such as instant noodles to locally produced staples such as cassava and taro. These staples provide only 11% of Fijians daily calorie intake.
In rural Fiji food security, good nutrition are entwined with other antipoverty measures such as clean water, sanitation, sound housing and access to cheap energy. We believe that tackling these issues in a way that is simple, affordable and sustainable can only be handled holistically using methods appropriate to the environment. Giving hand-outs in one area without tackling others will not stem the flow of young people to the cities and abroad. It will not counteract the insidious promotion of junk food in every media. We believe that empowering people means involving people in the problems as well as the solutions and inspiring them to move themselves out of poverty in a cheap and sustainable way.
We have developed a model farm based on the farm eco system, reducing imports to the farm to create self-sufficiency. Our adage is “eat what you grow: grow what you eat”. We encourage people to use a varied diet of home grown food including traditional staple foods in order to combat NCDs. We do this using organic farming methods, simple terracing, and different methods of composting, seed saving, companion planting, and crop rotation. We produce simple “how to do it guides” and will translate them into the four main languages of rural Fiji.
- The soil is our best asset and mustn’t be squandered. Soil retention and soil improvement are an essential part of our gardening. We built terraces using the available materials and learn to make them flat.
- Chemical based methods are expensive and bad for health. We use organic methods which cost nothing such as companion planting and crop rotation.
- We have built a greenhouse to grow more sensitive plants such as tomato and capsicum. We use glass cloches to cover seedlings from torrential rains. We use mulches.
- We improve the soil by adding natural nutrients to the soil e.g. making compost from fruit/ vegetable scraps, a wormery, urine collection, nitrogen rich fertiliser using beans.
- We have increased our egg production by building a chicken shed with comfortable laying areas.
- It is very difficult to get Fijians to change their farming practice. Learning effective when it is hands on and self-motivated – people see how things work and want to copy.
- It is also difficult to get any young people to record what they are doing. We have tried different methods of recording. It simply takes perseverance/ persistence to crack the problem.
- Theft, homebrew/ kava interferes with our work. We have to ban these on our site
Funders: Self-funded (i.e. our mataqali/extended family & village)
Primary Contact: Julie Dewa, Secretary / Trustee
Project Dates: 2009 to present
Interventions: Assess the context at the local level, Maintain or improve the natural resource base, Facilitate production diversification,
Target Population: Rural farmers,
Project Stage: Ongoing activities
Geographic Coverage: Village/Municipality