Food Security in Port Vila, Vanuatu

This report examines the state of food security1 in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila through a focus on the accessibility (physical and economic) and acceptability (preferences) of fresh, nutritious local food. Historically, the Pacific Islands have been thought of as food secure with rich volcanic soils and high rainfall levels ensuring a plentiful and diversified supply of nutritious, fresh foods. The rapidly expanding urban areas of the Pacific are often neglected in this discourse yet are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity, exacerbated by social and environmental change.

 

This report draws on empirical research with seven communities across the Greater Port Vila area to identify key barriers and opportunities to improve access to, and acceptability of, local fresh food for urban populations as a key component of improving urban food security. The key findings of this research are listed below, followed by recommendations for policy and action by key development actors. Key Findings:

1. Food security in terms of sufficient access to fresh, nutritious food is a substantive concern for Port Vila’s population.

2. The high reliance of urban populations on purchased food, particularly imported foods, increases the vulnerability to food insecurity particularly in times of natural disaster and increases in international food prices.

3. A lack of arable land to garden was identified as the biggest barrier to consumption of fresh, local food for urban households, indicating the need to support own production of food. 

4. The relatively high price of fresh, local food to imports was identified as another key barrier, highlighting the need to make the purchase of local food more accessible to urban consumers.

5. Convenience, in terms of time to make a garden and time to prepare local food, was also identified as a key barrier to consumption of aelan kakae / local food. Recommendations:

Key recommendations to address urban food security based on these findings are outlined below.

1. Policy and action on urban food security The findings of this report highlight that food security is a critical issue for urban households in Vanuatu, requiring greater attention from all development actors at both a policy and program level. It also highlights the unique factors that drive food insecurity within urban and peri-urban areas, identifying a range of approaches including policy levers – such as land use zoning and tariffs on imported goods – that could be implemented to facilitate positive change in this area.

2. Increase access to local fresh foods to improve urban resilience in the face of natural disasters and climate change Port Vila faces threats to food security from natural disasters and climate change. The high reliance on imported food items, limited ability to garden, lack of access to local food for purchase, and limited government capacity to increase import of foods (import-export ratio), make Port Vila’s population vulnerable to food insecurity particularly in times of emergency or crisis. Those on lower incomes and in informal settlements are particularly at risk. Greater attention to urban food security is therefore critical for disaster risk reduction in Port Vila. This could include increasing capacity and efficiency of inter-island (re)distribution for emergency response – inclusive of transport and storage solutions to keep produce fresh.

3. Conduct a nutrition-oriented value chain analysis of locally produced food Further research is recommended to identify barriers and opportunities to develop the supply of local food to urban consumers. The first step would be to identify the type and volume of produce in the urban food markets, its source and cost, accounting for seasonal variability. The next step would be a nutrition-orientated value-chain analysis, to identify opportunities along the food supply chain to enhance the supply of and/or demand for nutritious local foods. Pricing at the urban markets and opportunities to increase efficiencies and reduce costs along the local food supply chain should be a focus of any value chain analysis.

4. Programming to support local fresh food supply to urban consumers Programming to support the supply of local fresh food to urban consumers needs to be developed, drawing on the research in this report and outlined in recommendation 4. In a similar way to conventional agricultural development or value chain programs, this would 8 require working with actors along the supply chain - from production, transport, processing, storage, retail or wholesale of local food – to incentivise investment in locally produced and processed foods.

5. Regulatory measures to reduce price: review potentials of tariffs, taxes and price controls To make local foods more competitive with imported goods regulatory mechanisms must also be reviewed, including price-related measures such as tariffs and taxes on imported goods as well as price controls or subsidies on local food.

6. Engage urban youth in production and sale of locally produced and processed food Opportunities for youth-orientated initiatives relating to production and sale of locally produced and processed food should also be further explored. High rates of youth unemployment in urban areas create an untapped workforce, and our research on urban communities highlight the role of youth in catalysing community action. 15

7. Supporting the development of urban/peri-urban agriculture To enable the development of urban/peri-urban agriculture the lack of land to garden can be addressed in a number of ways. At the governmental level, actions to facilitate urban/periurban agriculture development include land use mapping, and zoning to protect agricultural lands.

8. Information and education: promoting consumption of local food and alternative means of production and preparation Providing information and education to urban communities on the value of local food to health is a first step in encouraging greater changes in food choices. More targeted campaigns to address the specific barriers to consumption of aelan kakae identified in this research – alternative and more convenient ways to produce and prepare aelan kakae – are also recommended.

9. Further food research: Food poverty and household food access The findings of this report highlight a number of areas that would benefit from further research. This includes further analysis of the extent and nature of food poverty in urban areas, as well as in-depth qualitative analysis of food access at a household level further examining factors identified by the current research such as consumption patterns, as well as gardening, food sharing and inter-island food transfer practices. 

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