According to initial rapid assessments that the Vanuatu government led in four provinces, the banana crop throughout the country has been almost entirely destroyed, as have most coconuts and all of the inland cabbage plants and leafy vegetables.
Root crops, which are an important local food source, have been uprooted and flooded in most areas, while the majority of fruit trees have been stripped and chickens and pigs have been killed.
In addition to the destruction of crops, existing food and seed stocks have also been destroyed by the cyclone, eliminating a vital source of food and income for families and increasing the needs for imports. The initial assessments also indicate destruction of fishing boats and gear.
With most of the household stocks and garden production lost, farmers risk to be without locally produced food by the end of March until at least mid-June when the first harvest from replanted fast-growing food crops could be available provided replanting starts immediately.
In the urban areas, imported rice and wheat are the main staples, but rural areas rely heavily on locally produced crops grown year-round and are expected to be affected most.
Lingering debris and stagnant water is meanwhile increasing the risk of pests and diseases.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva, underlined FAO’s readiness and commitment to work closely together with the government of Vanuatu to “help rebuild people’s lives and livelihoods, particularly in the rural areas.”
“Supporting Vanuatu after the disastrous cyclone begins with emergency agricultural assistance that FAO will provide together with the Government of Vanuatu and other partners but can only end when full recovery is achieved and Vanuatu has increased its resilience to extreme weather events that are bound to occur again,” Mr da Silva said.
Agriculture key to livelihoods
Assessing the full scale of damages and needs on Vanuatu’s more than 80 islands remains a challenge due to lack of functional communications and limited access following the destruction caused by cyclone Pam.
Around 99 per cent of households on the outer islands are dependent upon agricultural production to meet their consumption and income needs, whilst even in the capital city of Port Vila, around 75 per cent of households consume their own produce.
Livestock production represents another significant contribution to GDP, with exports to Japan and other Pacific Island countries.
“This underlines the fundamental importance of agriculture and fisheries to the livelihoods of communities and the impact Pam will have on the food security of the affected population,” said Gavin Wall, FAO Subregional Coordinator for the Pacific.
“We know that Vanuatu communities have long-standing traditional coping mechanisms to address immediate food needs and resume their agricultural production. FAO must ensure its interventions support their work and address the long-term rehabilitation of the agriculture sector.”
As an immediate intervention, urgent international assistance is needed for seeds, farming equipment and technical expertise to help the disaster-struck Pacific Island nation rebuild.
The government of Vanuatu has requested support from FAO to help the agriculture sector get back on its feet.
Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is urging farmers to use still available materials to begin replanting immediately to ensure food security for future months.
All farmers must act very quickly to save planting materials and start planting anywhere they can, first using materials that will otherwise rot quickly like kumala vines and banana suckers, followed by the less perishable materials like manioc.
In addition to emergency planting of new crops, all communities must immediately begin preserving or storing any available foods using traditional or modern methods like drying, salting, slow cooking meat, and burying root crops in the sand.
FAO is working with the Vanuatu Food Security and Agriculture Cluster which is leading an integrated response by NGOs, UN agencies, government and donors to safeguard food security throughout the country.
Agriculture bears the brunt
Pam hit Vanuatu while UN experts were meeting in Japan to discuss disaster risk reduction measures.
In a report published at the meeting FAO said that agriculture bears the brunt of natural disasters. Over a 10-year period from 2003 to 2013, the agriculture sector suffered some $70 billion in damages to crops and livestock – some 22 per cent of the damages inflicted by natural hazards such as drought, floods storms or tsunamis.