Promoting Food Security in Samoa

September 9, 2014


Samoa is starting to focus on rejuvenating its agricultural industry by working with farmers not only to increase their income, but also to ensure that local produce captures a growing share of the domestic food market.

Laura Keenan/World Bank

  • Food security is a great challenge for Samoa and other Pacific countries due to changes in what people eat and high dependence on food imports.
  • A project is helping farmers increase their income and help ensure access to markets for local produce.
  • Grants, new tools and technology have helped local farmers increase the reach of local produce.

Apia, Samoa, September 9, 2014 - This year the third Small Island Developing States conference was held in Samoa - a beautiful tropical island country lying in the heart of the South Pacific. During the conference delegates in the capital Apia populated its busy hotels, restaurants and cafes.

The nation’s food is a major part of Samoan culture, and ties to the land are key to people’s cultural identity. “For Samoa,” Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele Malielegaoihas remarked, “our food expresses our intimate relationship with the land, the sea and our ancestors.”

 Food security for small island economies

The country faces challenges of food security common to many small island economies. Across the Pacific, people’s diets have changed radically over recent years.Corned beef and fatty meat imports have become staple parts of the local diet, alongside cheap white rice and imported cereals. Fast food, flour and fizzy drinks have proliferated across restaurant tables and supermarket shelves.

Aside from the significant public health concerns, high dependence on food imports can come at a big cost, particularly given the distance of many island countries from larger markets. In Vanuatu, for instance, the average household spends an estimated 15% of its food budget on imported rice, compared to just 6% on local crops.

High dependence on global commodity markets to meet basic needs also leaves people vulnerable when global prices spike.Following the food and fuel price crises of 2008, the cost of a bag of rice tripled. The tiny atoll nation of Kiribati was subsequently forced to turn to food aid and increasingly expensive transport subsidies to meet the needs of hungry residents.

Re-valuing food culture in the Pacific

But in Samoa, there are signs that things may slowly be changing. More of Apia’s restaurants seem to be taking pride in marketing traditional Samoan cuisine made from local produce. A recent recipe book, produced at the request of the Prime Minister, features  a tantalizing array of healthy Samoan dishes with ingredients “from the heart of Polynesia”, while health promotion efforts look to inspire a growing interest in the origins of the food on people’s plates.

The government is also starting to focus on rejuvenating its agricultural industry. A recent World Bank-assisted project is one example. The Samoa Agriculture Competitiveness Enhancement Project is working with farmers not only to increase their income, but also to ensure that local produce captures a growing share of the domestic food market.

" "I have seen a big difference in terms of the quantity of vegetables we are growing now." "

Sara Ahhoy


Increasing the reach of local produce

The major thrust of the project has been its large-scale matching grant program, currently benefitting 190 commercial fruit and vegetable and livestock farmers – 50 from the initial pilot stage – to help them invest in the overall management of their farms.

Using these funds, Sara Ahhoy from Aleisa village has been able to construct a new nursery and 13 tunnel houses which help protect crops from heavy rain and minimize pests.

"I have seen a big difference in terms of the quantity of vegetables we are growing now,” she explains. “When we grew them outside, pests were a problem but also not so many vegetables would be harvested. Now, this house of tomatoes has lasted three months already, and we're still harvesting. Before they would last just three or four weeks.”

Today Sara is running a successful fruit and vegetable business which supplies hotels as well as Apia's main hospital. She grows a wide range of herbs - relatively new for Samoan farmers - as well as tomatoes, capsicums, salad vegetables, spring onions, and cabbages.

Other fruit and vegetable farmers have used the project to invest in new tools and technology; water storage and rock removal are major focus areas on many farms, as well as diversification of what is being grown. Aside from grants, multi-year research programs are experimenting with  new varieties of vegetables to see what works best in Samoan soils and climate.

Meanwhile commercial livestock farmers have been able to access funds to restore depleted pasture, purchase new animals and construct critical fencing or shelters which were badly damaged by Tropical Cyclone Evan in 2012. All participating farmers are set to benefit from comprehensive business trainings and extension services.


Maximizing the potential of the land

It seems that the market is ripe for high quality local food that is distinctly Samoan. With the right support, and with partners such as the Small Business Enterprise Centre and the Development Bank of Samoa, the project aims to ensure farmers can take advantage of such opportunities: to connect them to buyers, enable them to improve the value of their goods, and increase the market for fresh, healthy and ultimately local produce.

This would be good for the economy and ultimately good for Samoa, and could set an important precedent for greater self-sufficiency in Pacific island countries.