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Today in the Mission Yearbook

Minute for Mission: International Day of Farmers’ Struggles is April 17


Pacific Islanders reinvigorate traditional food systems and community unity

April 16, 2022

Weeding the tomato plants. (Photo courtesy of PCC)

In the Pacific, subsistence farming on land and subsistence fishing remains a foundation of livelihoods across our sea of islands, as well as a source of income. Climate change induced extreme weather (storms, cyclones/hurricanes, droughts, floods, etc.) and salt-water inundation from rising seas has already had a major impact on our plantations and farms.

From 2020 onward, as a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, Pacific Island countries that depend on tourism were affected severely. Fiji, which is the largest of these countries, was affected badly, with laid-off workers in tourism-related industries, such as hotels and travel companies, turning to farming and fishing for survival.

The impact of the first wave of COVID-19 border closures and lockdowns was compounded by climate-induced extreme weather patterns (severe tropical cyclones). This reduced agricultural production, food, and incomes. Families and communities sought ways to increase their own households’ production of root crops, vegetables and fruits.

Urban families and communities were the most affected with limited space to plant. In the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji and Tonga, the Pacific Conference of Churches with partners, including the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), developed two responses to support resilience to COVID-19 and food security through seedbanks (in the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) and urban foodbanks (in Tonga and Fiji) in the form of an urban-based farms with land belonging to the Tongan National Council of Churches (Tonga) and the Pacific Conference of Churches (Fiji). These urban foodbanks, managed and farmed by TNCC (Tonga) and PCC (Fiji) staff, provided fresh vegetables for families and communities not able to afford them from markets or grow them due to lack of access to arable land as well as those in care facilities (seniors, children).  

In rural communities, cultural safety networks and traditional food systems have been reinvigorated. In Fijian villages, the concept of Solesolevaki (community unity, reciprocity, trust and social capital) meant that every member of the community was valued and cared for, and that all worked collectively in farming plantations, fishing and other subsistence activities during the lockdown. As more Fijians found themselves unemployed due to the pandemic, they began to either return to their villages or utilize the practices of Solesolevaki in their urban communities.

The pressure of a capitalist market-oriented economy imposed on many Pacific developing countries, has led, over time, to a shift from the values of community well-being and a perspective of abundance, to one of profit and scarcity. Initially this influenced individual and community responses to the impacts of COVID-19: people in urban areas caught as much fish as they could, in case there no fish tomorrow; farming focused on short-term gain at the expense of the ecosystem. The practices of communal reciprocity, community unity and social capital had been replaced by individualism, materialism and selfishness.

The Pacific Conference of Churches Lomana Na Vulagi (Love the Stanger) Eco-Farm, established with support from the Presbyterian Hunger Program, seeks to model resilient, Indigenous farming techniques that are in harmony with the environment. Vulagi (Visitor or Foreigner) denotes the temporary tenure on Earth and recalls God’s exhortation to the Israelites on the lessons of hospitality and care to be learned from the experience in Egypt. The Eco-Farm is seen as an example to ecumenical and secular communities alike, throughout the region on how to put land to use in a sustainable, responsible and economically rewarding manner. This means the minimum destruction of trees and disruption of water sources, using available technology to reduce soil erosion, promoting organic farming methods for wellness and sustainability.

We observe the International Day of Farmers Struggles on April 17 every year to recognize the struggles of smallholder food producers globally and organize actions in support of food sovereignty and food justice.

Rev. James Bhagwan, Pacific Conference of Churches, Fiji

Today’s Focus: International Day of Farmers’ Struggles

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Jenny Oldham, Administrative Assistant, Presbyterian Hunger Program, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Dayna Oliver, Associate, International Program Administration, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance

Let us pray

We continue to pray for those farming communities who have been forced by necessity to shift from Indigenous, ecologically sensitive farming to a capitalist, unsustainable model of farming, and development. We pray for the courage and wisdom to help us reweave our models of farming, community and faith, so that in difficult times, we are resilient, unafraid and being ecologically sensitive.