Can Biofilta wicking beds assist local food production in Tuvalu?
Funafuti, located 1,000km north of Fiji looks fantastic and you would be forgiven to think you could grow whatever you wanted. The reality is growing food at home here is actually harder than it looks.
For the people of Funafuti ( one of the larger islands in Tuvalu ) growing food at home is almost impossible due to sea water rising through the coral scree in high tides, salinating any crop planted in the “ground”. The average elevation is only 1.83m above mean sea level.
It is amazing to visit a place that has such scarce topsoil.
Given that water supplies are 100% dependent on roof water capture, irrigating a large traditional garden is simply out of the question.
What about the 2hr wait for a lettuce? Well that is the reality for householders who get up at 7am to stand in line for a weekly ration of lettuce and cabbage and maybe a few cucumbers from the local community garden. Once the available green produce is handed out, that’s it for another week folks. Imagine that happening at your local supermarket.
Not surprisingly, given that home farming is difficult, poor diet ensues as cheap imported food high in fat, salt and sugar is consumed and the community has a high rate of diabetes and other diet related health issues.
Following a global food challenge in early 2017, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade ( DFAT ) commissioned Biofilta to undertake a trial of our raised, self watering and wicking garden beds to assess whether the issues of a lack of water, limited available compost and sea level rise could be addressed and healthy food could be grown in small available spaces.
The first phase involved a scoping trip in December 2017 with the team to assess the opportunities and challenges in setting up food growing systems in a place that considers any compost as “gold”. We met with local businessman Andrew Ponton who has started an NGO called Growing Tall with the aim to set up vertical gardens in Tuvalu.
Through the assistance of Growing Tall’s in-country labour and knowledge, trial gardens using our Foodwall Step system were deployed across the Island.
We also had excellent support from all stakeholders and government who were very interested in the opportunities for the community.
We installed systems of varying siez ranging from 1m2 to 10m2 in June 2018 at sites including:
- University of South Pacific
- Red Cross
- Local school
- Home gardens identified in the scoping phase
A total of 50m2 of garden area was deployed in this phase of the project.
Working with the local green waste collection agency, slow composted palm and other green material was sifted and delivered to various sites for installation in the Foodwall tubs.
The installation team then set up the trial gardens and developed a monitoring regime of weekly visits by our in-country garden champion Faatupu Semeti who recently graduated with a science degree from New Zealand. The systems were planted with locally sourced seedlings and water use, plant health, pH and other metrics are meticulously recorded.