Fiji: Increased vulnerability to natural disasters from environmental degradation
Agricultural development in the PICs has in varying degrees brought with environmental degradation, which has in turn increased the vulnerability to disasters. This problem was most pronounced in Fiji.
Cash cropping (sugar and ginger) has been extended to large areas of steeply sloping land without accompanying soil conservation measures being adopted. Erosion on this step exposed land is at it worst during the intense rainfall that accompanies cyclones. Land productivity has fallen, in many cases, to the point where the land is obsolete in arable agriculture. The farmers who continue to eke out an existence from this now marginal land are amongst the most vulnerable to natural disasters. These households invariably have no savings to fall back upon and grow no food security subsistence crops. Ironically Fiji once led the way in adoption of soil conservation measures. The Colonial Sugar Refining Company, that operated the Fiji sugar mills, enforced contour farming and pioneered the use of vetiver grass for soil conservation. Vetiver grass has been adopted world wide as an effective soil conservation measure - but has been abandoned in Fiji. In the colonial period the Department of Agriculture maintained a substantial soil conservation service - it now has none.
The high rate of land degradation in Fiji that has accompanied commercial agricultural development for crops such as sugar and ginger can be explained by a combination of factors:
The gravity of Fiji's environmental problems are not measured by their severity or extent, rather by the levity and ineffectiveness with which serious, albeit incipient problems, are being treated. Fiji is too small, too vulnerable, to ignore such problems for any length of time.
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