This article was originally published by Climate Adaptation UNDP and is republished with permission.

Fostering Climate Resilient Farmers in the Cook Islands

Under the harsh Mangaian sun, Akaiti “Mamaiti” Peraua breaks the mold of typical island farmers. A single mum of four children, she is not like the majority of those who plant in Mangaia.

Most are in their later years and male.

A resilient farming family

Tragically, Mamaiti’s husband passed away one year ago. The hardworking mother, who has been planting for 15 years, now bears the sole burden of providing for her and her children’s livelihoods (Teremanuia, 18 years; Tearoa, 14; Roimata, 10 and Sammara, 5).

She is a farmer that grows vegetables and fruits as a necessity to meet her family’s needs and to earn an income.

Planting is my family’s livelihood. We eat what we grow and also sell the produce to the community from my home and at Akeke Trading. Planting is my life and my children’s life.

On two acres of land, Mamaiti plants a wide variety of vegetables and fruits, from tomatoes, capsicum, cabbage, to watermelon, arrowroot, taro, yam, pak choi, lettuce, pineapple and cucumber.

Her land was allocated to her when she joined a farmers’ project under a Government-led Adaptation Fund-financed programme aimed at strengthening the resilience of the Cook Islands and local communities to climate change (SRIC-CC).

Mamaiti finds it peaceful on her farm and spends most of the day there. She has a little hut with all the essentials, including a small stove to boil water for tea or heat her food, and a bed to rest. While her children are at school, you will often see her there.

When not at school, her children play an important role on the farm, prepping the land, sowing the seeds, watering and harvesting.

I teach my children to be resilient. To adapt to the changes in the climate. Water is a huge issue and I have taught them how to capture rain water and cart water from wells for a consistent water supply, so that they are well-prepared to take care of their crops and be resilient farmers for the future.

Becoming climate-resilient

Mamaiti and other Cook Islanders are experiencing the impacts of climate change on their daily lives.

Over past decades, in line with global warming trends, the Cook Islands have seen a rise in air temperatures, sea levels and ocean acidification.

At the same time, development and social changes have placed pressure on sensitive environmental systems and sectors of the Cook Islands. The adverse effects of projected climate change impacts is expected further exacerbate the stress on these systems.

The goal of the SRIC-CC Programme, running since 2012, is to boost the long-term capacity of the Cook Islands to better manage current and future climate change-driven pressures.

The programme has put Cook Islanders at its heart, emphasizing community-based approaches and community-driven adaptation. Communities living on the outer lying islands (Pa Enua), including Mangaia, are active participants in strengthening their own resilience to climate change.

Through the project, farmers are boosting their livelihoods, while also combating the adverse effects of climate change on agricultural production and food security.

By improving capacity for forecasting weather and water storage; assessing and managing impacts of climate variability; implementing climate-resilient agricultural practices; and preserving traditional agricultural methods; participants are ensuring a more climate-resilient future, for their families and communities.

The project’s success has been rooted in its community-centered approach and its collaboration with a range of partners across government agencies and businesses, including the Business Trade and Investment Board, Cook Islands Tertiary Training Institute, Ministry of Agriculture, Cook Islands Tourism, Mangaian Island Government, Air Rarotonga and Prime Foods.

From farm to table, a success story

Farmers on Mangaia are now growing a wide variety of crops from carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, to pak choi, spring onion and zucchini. These vegetables not only make their way to the tables of local families but also, through a partnership with Prime Foods Supermarket, to the markets and tourism sector of the main island of Rarotonga.

The new crops have been well received and often are pre-sold prior to hitting the market or shop shelves.

The project has also seen a decrease of imported fresh produce to Mangaia.

Looking to the future

While the SRIC-CC Farmers Project is coming to an end, the participation and partnership of government agencies, the private sector and the community of Mangaia, means the sustainability of the project is assured.

Families like Mamaiti’s will continue to benefit from the knowledge, practices and pathways to market that the project has nurtured over the past three years.

As a result of the SRIC-CC project, training and equipment, I have now doubled the area of my farm and can grow a larger variety of crops and sell more of my produce. This has given me more money to take care of my family and contribute to my community.

I plan to expand my farm more in the next year and as part of the project will look at exporting produce to Rarotonga. I want to be able to provide my children and family with whatever they need. Farming has given me that security to know I will have food for tomorrow and money for my family. – Mamaiti

The Strengthening the Resilience of the Cook Islands to Climate Change Programme (SRIC-CC), is working with more than 200 individuals on community-based resilience initiatives across the 11 Pa Enua (outer islands) of the Cook Islands. The programme – funded with the support of the Adaptation Fund – is implemented by Climate Change Cook Islands, a division within the Office of the Prime Minister and supported by UNDP in Samoa, Cook Islands, Tokelau & Niue. It is due to come to a close in May 2018.

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