Aparna Mani, MEM

2012 TRI Fellow in Vanuatu

Cultivating Food Security: Ni-Vanuatu Women's Relationship with Food, Bio-diversity, Natural Resources and Food Policy

More than 1000 varieties of root and tuber crops are grown across a group of 10 villages in the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. Maintaining this diversity has been the foundation of the island inhabitants’ food security strategy (CIRAD 2008). Socio-economic changes are fostering the dominance of commercial farming systems such as coconut plantations and cattle ranches. Due to these changes, small farm holder communities are confronting issues such as limited access to traditional staple foods, depleted finances caused by purchasing food from the market, loss of biodiversity, and the disappearance of local customs around the cultivation of food (ANR 2010). Traditionally Ni-Vanuatu women are responsible for food cropping while men are involved in cash crop production (FAO 2003). Women typically access land and property through inheritance and marriage, but very few have recorded a formal claim to land (Naupa, 2012). Rights-based approach to land holding for women is still absent in Ni-Vanuatu policies (Naupa, 2012). Further, documentation of land reform related actions in the context of food security is lacking.

Through forty-five on-site interviews conducted in seven villages across two provinces, the objective of this research is to study relationships between gender, biodiversity, access to natural resources, and decision-making. Specifically, it will elucidate a) if, and how gender influences the preservation and cultivation of a wide diversity of crops and therefore enhances food security in the pacific islands, in light of various anthropogenic factors including climate change, b) if equal land rights for women can further enhance food security strategy at a household level and c) the representation and participation of gender in food security and agro-development policy and decision-making.

Potential findings from the data and observations gathered may contribute to social and gender equality and food security policies in Vanuatu and the Pacific Islands.

Key words: Food security, Land access, Bio-diversity and Gender