Posted by : Posted on : 26-Feb-2020

Adaptation suggestions to help improve food security for the people of Ontong Java.

A report in the Island Sun newspaper today written by Eddie Osifelo tells the sad story of how climate change has affected the lifestyles and food security needs of the people living in Ontong Java in Malaita’s Outer Islands.

The article highlights how sea level rise has caused local women to abandon their previous customary practices of harvesting sea shells to support their incomes and how they have had to stop growing taro because of salt water intrusion into their food gardens.

In the same article, Fr Nigel Kelaepa, Mission Secretary of Anglican Church of Melanesia, is quoted as having said:

 “Climate change is real for the people because it affects the economy, social and spiritual aspect of the island.

“Food security is an issue on the island because crops don’t grow well because the salt water has destroyed the swamps on the island.

“Our people depend on foods coming from Honiara and shops.”

I fully sympathise with the concerns of the people of Ontong Java wishing to remain on their land rather than having to consider moving to higher ground or even to another island.

In that light, I offer the suggestion of the community making raised gardening beds from either stone, cement or timber and putting soil in the beds together with organic matter to act as a sponge and buffer extreme conditions, such as during heavy rain.  In times of extreme heat, there will be water stored in the mix of soil and organic matter to help the crops through to the next rain.

In extreme wet weather, the organic matter will increases the soil’s capacity to absorb water and the improved structure will allow oxygen to still get to the plant roots. Plants, like animals, can literally drown if no oxygen is available. So improved soil condition will benefit whichever way the weather goes.

Properly constructed deep raised beds will raise the plants above a high water table helping to prevent flooding in wet weather and again providing a reservoir for dry spells.

Also, consider putting in some form of drainage in the beds which will not benefit in dry weather but will help the soil in wet conditions.


Consider how to distribute stored water. Irrigation systems based on weeping hoses are very efficient and long lasting, especially useful with deep beds.

What I have suggested by way of raised garden beds will not replace the food gardens traditionally cultivated but if sufficient are made then there will be, at least, more food security.

The garden beds can easily be made by using available logs or timber to hand, stones, rocks or metal sheets, if available.  People of Ontong Java are known for their ability to construct things and making raised garden beds should not pose too much of a problem.

If help is needed I am sure the administration of Malaita Province could help, as well as assistance that could be sought from the Ministry of Agriculture and Lands (MAL), also, I feel confident, the Kastom Garden Association would offer generous assistance.

Good wishes, people of Ontong Java.

As the serenity prayer says

“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,

Courage to change the things we can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Yours sincerely

Frank Short

Quick Enquiry