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Bases for innovation and sustainability

Instead of seeing trees as a basis for stability in agro-ecosystems, modern developers often focus on their disadvantages - e.g., trees take up space, may compete with annual crops, require years to reach maturity, and inhibit the use of some agricultural equipment such as the plough and mechanical harvester. These characteristics have often led to the domination or replacement of trees by more immediately productive annuals. However, in a world where biological stability is increasingly precarious, many characteristics of trees become advantageous. The "frozen" quality of trees - once established they are awkward to replace with other species - and the related lack of a quick turnover of product or land use provide a permanence in ecosystems that slows misuse and provides a wide range of ecological benefits: diversity of habitat, diversity of species, prevention of accelerated erosion, maintenance of soil fertility and arable soil structure, flood retardation, weed suppression, increased slope stability, and wind protection.

Trees for maintenance, insurance, and intensification

Agroforestry is now widely seen as a way to combine production with sustainability. In addition to the cultural and economic contributions already described or listed in table 2, trees also

  1. require less labour for maintenance than do annuals;
  2. provide the insurance of a diversified reserve of foods should annual crops fail; and
  3. produce, in combination with annuals, an aggregate yield greater than many monocultures of annuals.

As populations continue to grow and economic demands on land escalate, the use of land as a resource intensifies - which raises the trenchant question asked by Rambo and Hamilton (1991, 121), with regard to the upland areas of Asia and the Pacific: "How can we devise strategies for intensified resource use that will meet the broadest range of needs of the greatest number of people in the most sustainable way?" Part of their answer is that particular attention needs to be paid to agroforestry as a way to increase the productivity of existing agricultural land while reducing pressures to clear or otherwise exploit remaining forest land. Similarly, Raintree and Warner (1986) discuss the pathways by which agroforestry can aid in the intensification of shifting cultivation.

Antidote to nutritional degradation

The culinary and nutritional values of tree foods were discussed in a previous section. Further mention should be made of their potential to counter the rapid increase in nutrition-related maladies among Pacific peoples; an increase that has been widely documented and includes very high incidences of nutritional disorders such as iron-deficiency anaemia, vitamin-A-deficiency-induced night blindness, obesity, and general micronutrient deficiency, and of nutritionrelated non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, various forms of cancer, hyperuricaemia and gout, dental disease, and alcoholism (Cornell 1984; Coyne 1984; Fitzroy 1981; Jansen and Wilmott 1971; Johnson and Lambert 1982; Keith-Reid 1982; Pargeter et al. 1984; Parkinson 1982; Rody 1982; Thaman 1979, 1982c, 1983a, 1985b, 1987).

Although Pacific peoples seem to be genetically predisposed to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and gout (Baker 1979), the main cause of the increase of these diseases today seems to be the shift to a diet of imported, highly refined foods from a diet of fresh foods high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals and low in sugar, salt, animal fats, and refined carbohydrates. A diet based on imported, highly refined foods is the reverse - as well as containing carcinogenic food additives. Table 3 is an attempt to assess the degree of correlation between these dietary changes and the major nutritional and nutritionrelated disorders. Cigarette smoking, increasing alcohol consumption, and decreasing physical activity are also contributing factors to the rising incidence of such diseases (Coyne 1984; Thaman 1983a).

As can be seen from table 3, the fresh fruits, nuts, vitamin-rich green leaves, derived juices, and complex-carbobydrate-rich and fibre-rich staple foods such as bananas, breadfruit, and even coconut (which has no animal fat or cholesterol, and the high Pacific-islander consumption of which does not seem to be correlated with the increase in any of these diseases, except possibly gout and hyperuricaemia) are exactly the types of foods needed to stem the Pacific's dangerous nutritional transformation. These foods also constitute the traditional snacks, drinks, and supplementary foods that are now being replaced by soft drinks, candy, and other modern but nutritionally-poor processed foods.

The nutritious local staples, fruits, and vegetables are increasingly scarce (in actual amount and because of their high price) owing to population growth, urbanization, and the emphasis on monocultural production for export. All-but-forgotten by today's youth and in danger of disappearing are ingenious and time-tested strategies of acquiring wild food, of practicing polycultural agriculture and multi-storey agroforestry, and of processing, storing, and preserving traditional foods (Barrau 1958, 1961; Massal and Barrau 1956; Parkinson 1984a; Thaman 1982c, 1985b; Yen 1980a).

Food dependency and decreasing self-reliance

Many countries have become dangerously "food-dependent," with food imports constituting far more, in terms of value, than returns from all export earnings (Carter 1984; Coyne 1984; Heywood 1991; McGee 1975; Parkinson 1982, 1984b; Rody 1978; Thaman 1982c, 1985b). As early as 1968, food imports in the Cooks, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, Niue, Western Samoa, and Tonga made up between 25 and 35 per cent of import expenditure (Fairbairn 1971; McGee 1975).

Table 3 Degree of correlation between the increasing incidence of major nutritional and nutrition-related disorders and dietary changes (increasing and decreasing consumption of specified nutrients or substances)

  Increasing consumption Decreasing consumption
Sugar Saturated
Salt Alcohol Fibre Micronutrients Breast milk
Marasmus - - - - + - + + + + +
Kwashiorkor + + + + - - + + + + + + + +
Obesity (adult) +++ +++ +++ ++ +++ ++ + +++
Obesity (infant) + + + + + + + + + + - + + + + + +
Anaemia +++ +++ - ? + - +++ ++
Vitamin-A deficiency +++ +++ - ? ++ + +++ ++
Vitamin-B deficiency + + + + - ? + + + + + + + +
Micronutrient deficiency +++ +++ - - ++ + +++ +++
Infant mortality + + - - + - + + +  
Cardiovascular disease ++ ++ +++ +++ ++ ++ + ++
Hypertension + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Diabetes +++ +++ ++ + +++ + ++ ++
Cancer ++ ++ ++ ++ +++ ++ +  
Gout/arthritis + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Dental disease + + + + + - - + + + + + +
Alcoholism + + - ? + + + ? + +
General morbidity + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +++ +++ +++

Source: Adapted from Thaman 1983a.

+ + + Very high positive correlation (i.e., a major determinant). + + High positive correlation (i.e., a significant determinant). + Some positive correlation (i.e., a complicating factor). - Not significant, no correlation, or a negative correlation. ? No data.

Although the percentages of total imports of foodstuffs have not changed significantly, the total values of food imports, and their value compared with the value of exports, has increased drastically. In Kiribati, for example, where the dominant locally-grown staple foods are coconut, breadfruit, and pandanus (together with the giant swamp taro Cyrtosperma chamissonis), the 1989 value of food imports was $8,580,000 (Australian), which was 134 per cent of the value of exports. The import percentage increases still more if beverages and tobacco are included. The situation is similar in Tuvalu, Niue, and the Cook Islands, where food-import bills are larger than the total value of locallyproduced exports. The decrease in self-reliance is even greater in American Micronesia, but less in Melanesia, although food dependency in urban areas is increasing rapidly there (Cornell 1984; Forum Secretariat 1991).

A study in Papua New Guinea comparing rural eastern highlanders with those living in urban Lae showed that, whereas sweet potato and other starchy foods provided 85 per cent of the dietary energy and 65 per cent of the protein in the rural area, rice had become the main staple - ahead of sweet potato and taro, with animal protein being eaten almost daily - in Lae (Jeffries 1979). The country's rice imports increased 40 per cent between 1975/76 and 1979, of which approximately one-half was consumed in rural areas (Bourke et al. 1982). Although energy, vitamin, and mineral intakes seem to be sufficient in rural areas where root crops, bananas, and tree foods predominate, the energy intakes in some low-income urban areas in the capital of Port Moresby, where 72 per cent of the energy was provided by flour, rice, sugar, bread, and biscuits, were the lowest ever recorded for the country: 1,200 kilocalories (5.0 MJ) for men and 1,035 kilocalories (4.3 MJ) for nonlactating women (Jeffries 1979). Sugar provided 11 per cent of the energy, whereas root crops provided only 9 per cent (Coyne 1984).

In Fiji, food-balance studies in the late 1970s showed that the total population received only 29 per cent of total energy from root crops and fruits (NFNC 1979). Of particular concern in Fiji is the increasing emphasis on the consumption of cassava; in some areas, its contribution to dietary energy rose from 36 per cent in 1953 to 59 per cent in 1963 (Parkinson 1984; Thaman and Thomas 1982' 1985). The increasing monoculture of cassava, which can be cropped almost continuously on even the poorest soils, has also been a factor in deforestation. Previously, yams, taro, and other traditional staples were more commonly cultivated along with trees as components in integrated agroforestry systems.

In Tonga and Samoa, similar trends are evident. Diets in urban Nuku'alofa contained more bread, sweet potato, cassava, mutton, pork, tinned fish, beef, butter, and tea than diets in rural areas, where more taro, plantain, coconut, ripe bananas, fresh fish, shellfish, green vegetables, and fruits were consumed (Jensen 1973). In Western and American Samoa, taro, green bananas, breadfruit, and coconut contributed 50-64 per cent of the dietary energy in rural areas but only 31 per cent on the more urbanized island of Tutu'ila, and only 20.5 per cent among highly urbanized Samoans in Hawaii (Bindon 1982; Parkinson 1984b).

In the Cook Islands, studies comparing rural Mitiaro with urbanized Rarotonga show that less than half the amount of root crops and one-eighth the amount of coconut, but over thirty times the amount of cereals (flour, bread, and rice) and nine times the amount of sugar were consumed in Rarotonga (Coyne 1984). In French Polynesia, where the trend is well advanced, by 1973 90 per cent of food intake was imported (Jacober 1977).

The changes are, however, most dramatic on some of the atolls, such as in the Tuamotu atolls of French Polynesia, where the traditional foods, such as taro and Polynesian arrowroot, have been all but forgotten and breadfruit and bananas are becoming rare. As early as 1956, Barrau (1961) found that flour, sugar, rice, biscuits, vegetables, fats, and tinned foods accounted for more than 2,000 kilocalories of individual daily food intakes.

In Tuvalu, where the traditional diet consisted of fish, coconut, breadfruit, bananas, and Cyrtosperma taro, by 1976 the island of Funafuti was 80 per cent dependent on imports for its food needs (Zimmet et al. 1981). In Kiribati, the per capita consumption of rice and sugar increased, respectively, three-fold (from 15 to 52 kg per year) and five-fold (from 8 to 40 kg) between 1950 and 1979. Even on rural Maiana, 60 per cent of the population regularly consumed sugar, 90 per cent flour, and 95 per cent rice (Pargeter et al. 1984). Studies on Namu atoll in the Marshall Islands in the late 1960s showed that 93 per cent of all copra income was spent on food, and that sugar, tea, and rice had replaced breadfruit, coconut, and Cyrtosperma taro as the most commonly consumed foods (Pollock 1970, 1974).

In parts of the Pacific, such as Tonga, where the traditional agro forestry system is relatively intact, the per capita bill for imported food has remained fairly modest - US$75 in 1984 (Heywood 1991, 75). Elsewhere, food dependency has reached far more vulnerable levels, as in French Polynesia with per capita annual food imports of US$554 (Hamnett et al. 1981).

Agroforestry and national development goals

Despite the relevance of agroforestry to modern development initiatives, few if any national development plans have formally included it in their lists of priorities or strategies, perhaps because trees and tree planting as components of agricultural systems "fall into the gaps" between the institutionalized sectoral responsibilities of "agriculture" and "forestry" (Chambers 1983).

An analysis of commonly stated national development objectives as well as of agricultural and forestry sector objectives from the most recent national development plans for Fiji (1985), Kiribati (1983), Papua New Guinea (1983), Tonga (1981), Vanuatu (1982), and Western Samoa (1984) shows considerable overlap, with the major objectives of national development being to

  1. improve productivity and the economic well-being of the country and its people;
  2. maximize national self-sufficiency and self-reliance;
  3. enhance the quality of life for all people, with particular em phasis on women, in both urban and rural areas - i.e., to distribute the benefits of development more equitably and to maximize the realization of the national human resource potential;
  4. preserve the culture and traditions of the nation;
  5. transfer or promote appropriate technologies; and
  6. conserve natural resources and protect the environment.

Sevele (1981) has argued that the wide-ranging development objectives "can be reduced to a few basic ones." These include:

  1. improved quality of life or standard of living;
  2. more equitable distribution of development benefits;
  3. increased employment opportunities;
  4. improved social and cultural facilities and services;
  5. protection of the environment;
  6. promotion of economic independence; and
  7. fostering regional cooperation.

Similar themes are seen in the more narrowly focused agricultural and forestry development objectives, with common objectives being:

  1. agricultural diversification;
  2. promotion of appropriate agricultural technologies and farming systems, both modern and traditional;
  3. strengthening of agricultural infrastructure, including extension,
  4. credit, transport, storage, processing, and marketing; improvement of the nutritional status of the people;
  5. increased selfsufficiency in timber and fuel wood; and
  6. promotion of social forestry or village-level agroforestry.

Almost all of these objectives could be furthered, either directly or indirectly, through the promotion of polycultural agroforestry systems. On the national level, in terms of encouraging import substitution, improving the balance of payments, and maximizing national selfsufficiency, agroforestry could have a significant effect in reversing dependency on imports and on ever-increasing foreign exchange problems. An expansion of agroforestry would also increase returns on underutilized natural and cultural resources and increase long-term productivity in both urban and rural areas.

Because almost all households can benefit from agroforestry, its systematic promotion on a national level could bring about more equitable and balanced development. It could also lead to improved use of scarce capital and aid and could minimize public expenditure through the maximization of self-help on the part of the communities involved.

For individual families, the economic importance seems to be great indeed, especially for unskilled workers and poor urban immigrants, who would benefit from the fruit, medicines, firewood, and other products provided by trees and associated plants and animals. For example, in Suva, Fiji, many residents of government housing would not have been able to pay their rents if it were not for the estimated $812 (Fijian) per week per family (approximately US$9.514) they saved by growing their own cassava, taro, tree crops, other foods, medicines, and firewood on idle urban land and in home gardens (Thaman 1984a). The value of coconuts, toddy, firewood, medicines, and the wide range of products of the coconut palm would likewise be of critical economic importance, particularly in densely-settled-atoll urban areas such as Tarawa in Kiribati or Majuro in the Marshall Islands.

The money saved can be used for other purchases - for example, of fish, meat, eggs, or dairy products - to supplement proteindeficient urban diets. The significance of subsistence provision in urban areas was recognized at least 20 years ago in the British Solo mon Islands Protectorate by the Committee on Food Supplies (1974), which noted in its report that ". . . non-cash or so-called 'subsistence incomes' are more important in towns, and cash incomes more important in rural areas than has been generally understood."

Agroforestry development could contribute to tourism development by ensuring that workers in the tourism industry maximize their real incomes and maintain subsistence production as insurance against downturns in the fragile international tourism economy. Moreover, coastal reforestation and coastal agroforestry would enhance the beauty and stability of beaches, which are so important to Pacific Island tourism.

The social benefits of agroforestry are manifold and must be seen as contributing significantly to the quality of life and the protection of cultural values. For instance, social ties are maintained through the distribution of produce and provision of food for feasts; trees are provided for the recreational activities of children; and urban dwellers and their children, who often have limited knowledge of or appreciation of plants, are linked with their past through an understanding of the traditional uses of trees.

There is considerable scope for involving traditional or existing leadership, increasing local participation, and increasing the involvement of women in agroforestry development. On Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, for example, successful schemes for replanting the endangered coastal species Cordia subcordata and Thespesia populnea have met with considerable success and have created greater environmental awareness.

Given access to land, agroforestry and tree planting are technically within the means of even the poorest families. They depend on inexpensive and readily available time-tested local technologies, plants, and cultural practices rather than on unfamiliar, often expensive, and ecologically-suspect imported technologies such as hybrid seeds, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, mechanized equipment, and imported food and fossil fuels. Inexpensive and often locally produced hand tools are the only implements required.

Agroforestry inherently increases agricultural diversification in predominantly monocultural rural areas, as well as helping with most other development objectives such as achieving self-sufficiency in food, livestock, timber, and fuel; promoting appropriate agricultural technology; improving nutrition; and taking pressure off existing forestry resources while bestowing to agricultural landscapes the environmental benefits of trees.

Existing models and the need for appropriate innovation

How can agroforestry be encouraged so that the many advantages of tree-rich agro-ecosystems are more widely realized? How can an arborocultural strategy be maintained or intensified? We suggested earlier that functioning models have long existed within the Pacific, and that these should provide the region with the basis for modern interventions and the further evolution of agroforestry systems. Modified forms have developed with urbanization and some forms of commercial agriculture. A few of the possible models are described in the case-studies in the following chapters.

Although there will remain a continuing need for innovation and for the modification of existing agroforestry systems, it should be remembered that the existing systems have never been static; they are the product of constant evolution and selection over centuries or millennia and are evidence of the continued willingness of Pacific Island agroforesters to make rational decisions to adapt their systems to changing conditions and technologies. Because the existing systems are largely endogenous, rather than imposed in accord with the beliefs of urban-based governments or aid-funding agencies, the incremental improvement of existing systems - as by the introduction of appropriate new species, varieties, and technologies - offers a strong, locallybased means of promoting sustainable development in the small-island states of the Pacific Ocean.

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