Land Use Potential

Tuvalu has a total land area of 26 square kilometers (km2) spread across more than 900,000 km2 of Pacific Ocean. Land resources are few and of poor quality and with the highest point of land only a few meters above sea level.

About 50% of the population of approximately 9,600 resides on Funafuti where population density is high. The development of agriculture in Tuvalu must confront many fundamental issues and challenges. Among them poor soils and growing conditions, small land areas, decline of outer island populations, increasing urbanization, declining interest in traditional agricultural practices, distance to export markets, and poor local market access for those who do wish to produce cash crops. Nevertheless, there is considerable scope for increasing production for local consumption and reversing recent production declines. Key challenges are to revitalize and expand agriculture extension services, encourage people to once again turn to local rather than imported foods for better nutritional health, and improve transport and marketing of local produce.

There do not appear to be detailed agricultural census data for Tuvalu but a 2016 Biodiversity Report gives some insight into current land cover and land use.

 

Landcover/Land Use

Hectares

Percent

Coconut woodland

1619

53.86%

Mangroves

515

17.13%

Scrub

419

13.94%

Village buildings

172

5.72%

Broadleaf woodland

122

4.06%

Pulaka pits and basins

65

2.16%

Coconut and broadleaf woodland

51

1.70%

Other (i.e. low ground cover)

33

1.10%

Pandanus

10

0.33%

Total

3006

 

 
from: Tuvalu National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, 2016

Economically, most Tuvaluans practice subsistence fishing, farming and the harvest of a range of wild, mainly plant, products. Only about one-quarter of the population participates in the formal wage economy. This is especially true outside Funafuti, where people depend on fish, shellfish and other sea foods, coconut, breadfruit, bananas, taro, pandanus, a limited number of other crops, pigs, chickens, seabirds and some wild plants, such as the bird’s nest fern (laukatafa) as their main locally produced foods.  Currently the most important of coconut products are toddy and fresh nuts.

There is potential for improving productivity of coconut groves by intercropping with local and introduced fruit trees and cash crops such as noni. Coconut based intercropping is a traditional farming system that can be revived and improved. Diversifying the coconut industry to coconut timber production (and perhaps downstream processing) and to other coconut products e.g. hydrogenated oil, shampoo etc. represent opportunities.

With traditional pulaka pits having been impacted by high salinity and other problems, alternatives such as wicking systems (https://www.aciar.gov.au/publications-and-resources/news/Agricultural-specialists-team-provide-locally-grown-food-solutions) that can range from simple constructions using plastic sheets to modern plastic Food Cubes (https://www.biofilta.com.au/foodcube-wicking-bed.html#/) are also being promoted as modern versions of pit agriculture.  The results are broadly similar, but the wicking systems are easy, affordable and save water, and only need to add compost after 3 weeks to a month.

Composting is a key component of these systems and research and advice has been carried out to support this type of activity (e.g., https://www.aciar.gov.au/project/SMCN-2014-089) which includes practical recipes and advice around preparation of compost (https://reachout.aciar.gov.au/compost-recipe-gives-pacific-island-countries-a-nutrient-boost).


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