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close this bookAgroforestry in the Pacific Islands: Systems for Sustainability (UNU, 1993, 297 pages)
close this folder2 Pacific Island agroforestry: Functional and utilitarian diversity
View the documentIntegration and sustainability
View the documentDiversity of function
View the documentBases for innovation and sustainability
View the documentAgroforestry and national development goals
View the documentExisting models and the need for appropriate innovation

Integration and sustainability

In traditional Pacific Island societies, aspects of living such as for estry, agriculture, housing, medicine, and tool making were not com partmentalized into economic sectors. Instead, they were parts of an integrated system of production tailored to the environmental condi tions and material needs of each island society. As most of the sys tems that evolved in the Pacific contained both annual crops and trees, they were true agroforestry systems. While not unchanging, these tree-rich systems had a high degree of stability and would fit into Janzen's category of sustained-yield tropical agro-ecosystems (SYTA). The "resilient permanence" of these traditional Pacific agro-ecosystems rested on seven "principles of permanence" that made possible their continuing operation for centuries or millennia.

The systems (Clarke 1977)

  1. did not depend on external energy subsidies or extra-system nutrient sources - i.e., no imported fuel, fertilizers, or other imports were required;
  2. did not receive applications of poisonous agricultural chemicals or eutrophic materials to pollute the environment;
  3. had strongly positive net energy yields - i.e., for every joule of energy invested, 18-20 joules of food energy were returned;
  4. used only renewable resources as inputs - e.g., trees for fencing, ash as fertilizer- rather than imported, often non-renewable, inputs such as inorganic fertilizers derived from phosphate deposits or fossil fuels that took millions of years to form;
  5. were structured so that the resources supporting agriculture (energy, land, vegetation) were equitably spread throughout the community rather than being concentrated in the hands of a few or in urban areas;
  6. contained resources that were looked upon as productive capital to be preserved - i.e., attempts were made to preserve for future generations a habitat and set of resources only slightly modified from what parents had themselves inherited; and
  7. were based on polyculture and a diversity of tree and non-tree crops, wild plants, and animals rather than on monoculture or on specialized animal production.

Diversity of function

In terms of the more specific attributes of individual Pacific agroforestry systems, table 2 shows the many functions of these systems as well as the value of the individual arboreal components. Although modern resource developers see economic value and, possibly, even ecological, recreational, or nutritional value in native forests, in silvicultural tree plantings, in plantations of coconut, oil-palm, cocoa, coffee, or banana, and in orchards of orange, avocado, or macadamia, it is clear that Pacific Island agroforesters perceived arboreal resources to be far more pervasive in the landscape and still more multi-purposeful .

To emphasize the variety of arboreal functions in Pacific Island agrosilvicultural systems, we provide the following examples from the immense list possible.


Shade provides valuable protection to humans, plants, and animals, especially in savannas and in highly reflective low-lying coral island and lagoonal environments. Sunburn can be very severe in the tropical Pacific; solar-induced skin cancer is common. Trees provide not only a protective habitat that is open to cooling breezes but also materials for the production of almost all locally-produced headgear and structures used to protect Pacific fisherfolk and agroforesters and their animals and shade-loving plants against the sun's rays.

Protection from natural calamities

Damage from wind, salt spray, erosion, and flood are increased when forests are removed. This was evidenced in 1982 in Tonga by the comparatively minor damage to crops by Isaac in areas with even small groves of trees. This worst hurricane in Tonga's recorded history caused damage estimated at T$8 milion (aprox. US$9 milion) to crops and livestock alone (Thaman 1982a)

Table 2 Ecological and cultural functions and uses of trees in agroforestry systems in the Pacific Islands, based on fieldwork in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Rotuma, Tonga, Western Samoa, Kiribati, and Nauru comparatively minor damage to crops by hurricane Isaac in areas with even small groves of trees. This worst hurricane in Tonga's recorded history caused damage estimated at T$8 million (approximately US$9 million) to crops and livestock alone (Thaman 1982a).

Shade Soil improvement Animal/plant habitats
Erosion control Frost protection Flood/runoff control
Wind protection Wild animal food Weed/disease control
Timber (commercial) Broom Prop or nurse plants
Timber (subsistence) Wrapping materials Staple foods
Fuel wood Abrasive Supplementary foods
Boat building (canoes) Illumination/torches Wild/snack/emergency
Sails Insulation foods
Tools Decoration Spices/sauces
Weapons/hunting Body ornamention Teas/coffee
Containers Cordage/lashing Non-alcoholic beverages
Wood carving Glues/adhesives Alcoholic beverages
Handicrafts Caulking Stimulants
Fishing equipment Fibre/fabric Narcotics
Floats Dyes Masticants
Toys Plaited ware Meat tenderizer
Switch for children/ Hats Preservatives
discipline Mats Medicines
Brush/paint brush Baskets Aphrodisiacs
Musical instruments Commercial/export Fertility control
Cages/roosts products Abortificants
Tannin Ritual exchange Scents/perfumes
Rubber Poisons Recreation
Oils Insect repellents Magico-religious
Toothbrush Deodorants Totems
Toilet paper Embalming corpses Subjects of mythology
Fire making Lovemaking sites Secret meeting sites

Deforestation commonly leads to accelerated erosion, and such degradation is ubiquitous in all high-island groups. Mangrove forests stabilize tidal-zone soil and reduce the impact of storm surge and salt spray. Trees also reflect terrestrial radiation and may provide some protection from frost to garden-edge crops at higher elevations in the Papua New Guinean highlands. It has even been suggested that pro grammes of coastal reforestation and agroforestry-based coastal reclamation, based on indigenous, salt- and wind-resistant trees and plants, could be one of the most effective strategies for addressing both the predicted short- and long-term effects of global warming such as increasing storminess, coastal erosion, and soil deterioration; declining fisheries and aquacultural yields; and decreasing soil fertility (Thaman 1989b).

Soil improvement

Natural soil improvement is another benefit provided by trees, especially given the high cost of fossil-fuel-dependent inorganic fertilizers and concern as to the detrimental impact on soil of long-term use of such fertilizers (Commoner 1971). Alioizia and Casuarina spp. are known by scientists and Papua New Guinean tribal farmers alike to enrich the soil for shifting gardens; as the Papua New Guineans say, such trees serve as a "garden mother" (Clarke 1965). Koka (Bischofia javanica), which is also believed to enhance soil fertility, is one of the most commonly protected trees in fallow areas in both Tonga and the wet and intermediate zones in Fiji. The extensive spread of the nitrogenfixing Middle American tree Leucaena leucocephala in many Pacific islands provides a recent example of this function (National Academy of Sciences 1977).

Forests and trees as habitats

Bird extinctions have been common on Pacific islands, and now many of the world's rarest or most threatened birds (the world's two rarest birds are the Mariana's mallard and the Kauai o'o of Hawaii) are found on Pacific islands. The past and threatened extinctions seem to be primarily the result of habitat elimination through deforestation (Dahl 1980; King 1981). Forest removal is also responsible, along with predation by profiteering collectors, for the endangerment of the worldrenowned birds of paradise and giant birdwing butterflies of Papua New Guinea. Without the recent introduction of protective legislation and butterfly-farming schemes, including the planting of host tree species, these valuable cultural, economic, and scientific resources would be lost (Pyle 1981).

Because deforestation may destroy the habitats of insects, birds, and other vertebrates that prey on crop pests, the process of forest loss may limit the potential for implementing integrated pest management programmes designed to minimize reliance on dangerous herbicides and pesticides (Bottrell 1978).

Timber, construction, and handicraft materials

Commercial timber operations supply local construction needs throughout the Pacific as well as generating significant amounts of foreign exchange in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Fiji, and Western Samoa. Trees are also important in the informal sector of most countries for house construction, fencing, boat building, tool making, weaponry, making containers, and fishing gear (table 2). The coconut palm provides a whole storehouse of materials for house building, mat making, containers, fish traps (roots), and an array of handicrafts. The breadfruit for many islands is another tree of life, used for medicine, food parcelling, mulching, and canoe making. Bamboo contributes fishing poles, fencing, housing containers, and rafts. Many native species- e.g., Intsia bijuga, Cordia subcordata, and Thespesia populnea - are favoured for wood carving, but are now in short supply in Fiji and Tonga because of overexploitation. With the decline in these species, the introduced raintree (Samanea saman) has taken on increasing importance for making the traditionally-important kava bowl (tanoa in Fiji or kumete in Tonga).

Food resources

The nutritional importance throughout the Pacific of staple foods from trees such as coconut, breadfruit, bananas, sago palm, and Pandanus spp., along with a wide range of supplementary foods, snacks, or famine foods from other trees, has been widely stressed elsewhere and needs no further mention (Coyne 1984; Parkinson 1982; Rody 1982; Thaman 1979, 1982b, 1982c, 1983a, 1985b; Yen 1980a). Supplementary foods, snacks, and wild foods are described by Thaman (1975, 1976/77, 1982b) for Tonga and other Pacific islands and by Clarke (1965, 1971) for a highland Papua New Guinean community. Powell (1976a) provides a comprehensive coverage of wild foods and other important aspects of ethnobotany for the island of New Guinea.

Although many tree foods are energy-rich in carbohydrates and/or vegetable fats, it is in other nutritional essentials that they often excel compared with the ubiquitous root-crop staples and other annual nonarboreal plants. For example: mango, papaya, and some Panda nus spp. are excellent sources of provitamin A; Canarium spp., Inocarpus fagifer, and avocado (Persea americana) provide Bcomplex vitamins; and guava, mango, papaya, and Citrus spp. are rich in vitamin C. Most seeds or green leaves (for instance, from Ficus spp., Gnetum gnemon, which also provides edible seeds, and Moringa oleifera) are good sources of plant protein and a range of other micronutrients necessary for optimum health (Leung et al. 1972; Miller 1927; Miller et al. 1965; Murai et al. 1958; Thaman 1982c, 1983a). Moreover, all foods from trees and associated agroforestry-system ground crops are rich in fibre, which is essential to good health, but which is noticeably lacking in highly processed foods of urban diets (Coyne 1984; Thaman 1983a).

Spices and sauces from tree products can also be of great nutritional importance. Coconut cream or milk is used very widely in cooking, and local variants of the Rotuman taroro or Samoan sami lolo (concoctions of sea water aged or fermented with coconut flesh, often with chili peppers, in a coconut nut) enhance local cuisines. The sauce from Pandanus conoideus syncarps provides vitamin-A precursors and vegetable oil, nutritionally important additions to highland New Guinean diets. Indian cooking in Fiji utilizes tamarinds for chutney, the "curry leaf" (Murraya koenigii), a wide range of pickled fruits (achar), and many other tree products.

Trees are also important sources of food and fodder for domesticated animals. Pisonia grandis leaves, for example, are used as pig feed in Tonga; avocados are fare for pigs in the Cook Islands; Leucaena leaves and pods are used widely for goats, pigs, and cattle; and coconuts and papaya are abundant and important animal foods throughout most of the Pacific.

Wild food and other valuable products are lost to subsistence communities when the diverse plants and animals that supplied them disappear along with the forest that served as their habitats (Clarke 1965, 1971; Thaman 1982b). Destruction of the Calophyllum inophyllum forest and stands of Pisonia grandis on Nauru's central plateau, as a result of opencast phosphate mining, has eliminated roosting areas for the noddy bird, which is of considerable social and dietary importance to the Nauruan people (Manner et al. 1984, 1985). Deforestation has also restricted the habitats for wallabies and the valued cassowary bird of Papua New Guinea, and a great number of vertebrate and non-vertebrate wild foods that contribute significantly to the dietary well-being of many Pacific Islanders, particularly in the interior of large continental islands.

Mangrove ecosystems, which can be considered as a kind of outrider to agroforestry systems, contribute, either directly or indirectly through primary and secondary productivity, to the nutritional requirements of many marine species used as food by humans (Watling 1985). Research in Fiji has shown that over 60 per cent of commercially-important species are associated with mangroves at some stage in their life cycle (Lal et al. 1983), whereas more rigorous research gives figures of 67 and 80 per cent for eastern Australia and Florida (Walling 1985). Destruction and "reclamation" of such resources undoubtedly have deleterious effects on fisheries yields, with studies in the Malacca Straits indicating that mangrove clearing for industrial expansion led to a substantial drop in catches per effort (Khoo 1976). Baines (1979) argues that mangrove removal can lead to yield declines in offshore fisheries of 50-80 per cent.

Medicinal value

The arboreal pharmacopoeia is widely known and valued by modern science and industry as well as by local inhabitants. As everywhere in the tropics, all parts of the Pacific possess medicine-producing trees. For example, Nauru, which has an impoverished flora (some 49 indigenous species including non-trees), has 24 tree species with medicinal uses. Similarly, of 93 medicinal plant species found in urban gardens in Fiji, Tonga, Kiribati, and Nauru, 55 per cent (51) were trees and another 10 were woody shrubs (Thaman 1987).

Love potions and perfumes

More for pleasure than curing are love potions or aphrodisiacs and perfumes from trees. Guettarda speciosa, a coastal tree common in home gardens in Nauru and Kiribati, has flowers that when boiled in water produce a liquid that a woman can drink to "make a man go crazy" when she sweats. Perfumes or scents such as sandalwood are well known outside the Pacific and have drawn foreign exploiters from early European times to the present. In the late 1970s the profligate shipping of sandalwood from Tonga to Singapore and Hong Kong was stopped because of public outcry. Less cosmopolitan fragrances are derived from Cananga odorata and other scenting agents that are put into coconut oil from trees such as Pimenta, Plumeria, Gardenia spp., Parinari glaberrima, Aglaia saltatorum, Fagraea berteriana, and Calophyllum inophyllum. In Tonga, for example, there are over 50 species of sacred or fragrant plants, known as 'akau kakala, that are central to the spiritual and economic fabric of Tongan society and that are planted or protected as integral components of Tongan agroforestry.

Other uses

Wrapping materials include coconut leaves, leaves of Artocarpus altilis, Musa cultivars, Hibiscus tiliaceus, and Macaranga spp. Other leaves, notably Ficus spp., serve as effective abrasives. Dyes are derived from many sources, e.g., Bischofia javanica (a major brown dye for tape), Bruguiera spp. and Aleurites moluccana (black), Morinda citrifolia (yellow and red), and Bixa orellana (red).

These few examples from the list in table 2 show the utilitarian diversity and the economic and cultural value derived from trees and agroforestry in the Pacific - values that are rarely acknowledged in planning or project documents but that would be costly, difficult, or impossible to replace with imported substitutes. The elimination of such utilitarian and cultural diversity can only serve to lock Pacific societies more tightly into economic and cultural dependency.

Bases for innovation and sustainability

Instead of seeing trees as a basis for stability in agro-ecosystems, modern developers often focus on their disadvantages - e.g., trees take up space, may compete with annual crops, require years to reach maturity, and inhibit the use of some agricultural equipment such as the plough and mechanical harvester. These characteristics have often led to the domination or replacement of trees by more immediately productive annuals. However, in a world where biological stability is increasingly precarious, many characteristics of trees become advantageous. The "frozen" quality of trees - once established they are awkward to replace with other species - and the related lack of a quick turnover of product or land use provide a permanence in ecosystems that slows misuse and provides a wide range of ecological benefits: diversity of habitat, diversity of species, prevention of accelerated erosion, maintenance of soil fertility and arable soil structure, flood retardation, weed suppression, increased slope stability, and wind protection.

Trees for maintenance, insurance, and intensification

Agroforestry is now widely seen as a way to combine production with sustainability. In addition to the cultural and economic contributions already described or listed in table 2, trees also

  1. require less labour for maintenance than do annuals;
  2. provide the insurance of a diversified reserve of foods should annual crops fail; and
  3. produce, in combination with annuals, an aggregate yield greater than many monocultures of annuals.

As populations continue to grow and economic demands on land escalate, the use of land as a resource intensifies - which raises the trenchant question asked by Rambo and Hamilton (1991, 121), with regard to the upland areas of Asia and the Pacific: "How can we devise strategies for intensified resource use that will meet the broadest range of needs of the greatest number of people in the most sustainable way?" Part of their answer is that particular attention needs to be paid to agroforestry as a way to increase the productivity of existing agricultural land while reducing pressures to clear or otherwise exploit remaining forest land. Similarly, Raintree and Warner (1986) discuss the pathways by which agroforestry can aid in the intensification of shifting cultivation.

Antidote to nutritional degradation

The culinary and nutritional values of tree foods were discussed in a previous section. Further mention should be made of their potential to counter the rapid increase in nutrition-related maladies among Pacific peoples; an increase that has been widely documented and includes very high incidences of nutritional disorders such as iron-deficiency anaemia, vitamin-A-deficiency-induced night blindness, obesity, and general micronutrient deficiency, and of nutritionrelated non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, various forms of cancer, hyperuricaemia and gout, dental disease, and alcoholism (Cornell 1984; Coyne 1984; Fitzroy 1981; Jansen and Wilmott 1971; Johnson and Lambert 1982; Keith-Reid 1982; Pargeter et al. 1984; Parkinson 1982; Rody 1982; Thaman 1979, 1982c, 1983a, 1985b, 1987).

Although Pacific peoples seem to be genetically predisposed to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and gout (Baker 1979), the main cause of the increase of these diseases today seems to be the shift to a diet of imported, highly refined foods from a diet of fresh foods high in fibre, vitamins, and minerals and low in sugar, salt, animal fats, and refined carbohydrates. A diet based on imported, highly refined foods is the reverse - as well as containing carcinogenic food additives. Table 3 is an attempt to assess the degree of correlation between these dietary changes and the major nutritional and nutritionrelated disorders. Cigarette smoking, increasing alcohol consumption, and decreasing physical activity are also contributing factors to the rising incidence of such diseases (Coyne 1984; Thaman 1983a).

As can be seen from table 3, the fresh fruits, nuts, vitamin-rich green leaves, derived juices, and complex-carbobydrate-rich and fibre-rich staple foods such as bananas, breadfruit, and even coconut (which has no animal fat or cholesterol, and the high Pacific-islander consumption of which does not seem to be correlated with the increase in any of these diseases, except possibly gout and hyperuricaemia) are exactly the types of foods needed to stem the Pacific's dangerous nutritional transformation. These foods also constitute the traditional snacks, drinks, and supplementary foods that are now being replaced by soft drinks, candy, and other modern but nutritionally-poor processed foods.

The nutritious local staples, fruits, and vegetables are increasingly scarce (in actual amount and because of their high price) owing to population growth, urbanization, and the emphasis on monocultural production for export. All-but-forgotten by today's youth and in danger of disappearing are ingenious and time-tested strategies of acquiring wild food, of practicing polycultural agriculture and multi-storey agroforestry, and of processing, storing, and preserving traditional foods (Barrau 1958, 1961; Massal and Barrau 1956; Parkinson 1984a; Thaman 1982c, 1985b; Yen 1980a).

Food dependency and decreasing self-reliance

Many countries have become dangerously "food-dependent," with food imports constituting far more, in terms of value, than returns from all export earnings (Carter 1984; Coyne 1984; Heywood 1991; McGee 1975; Parkinson 1982, 1984b; Rody 1978; Thaman 1982c, 1985b). As early as 1968, food imports in the Cooks, Kiribati, Tuvalu, Nauru, Niue, Western Samoa, and Tonga made up between 25 and 35 per cent of import expenditure (Fairbairn 1971; McGee 1975).

Table 3 Degree of correlation between the increasing incidence of major nutritional and nutrition-related disorders and dietary changes (increasing and decreasing consumption of specified nutrients or substances)

  Increasing consumption Decreasing consumption
Sugar Saturated
Salt Alcohol Fibre Micronutrients Breast milk
Marasmus - - - - + - + + + + +
Kwashiorkor + + + + - - + + + + + + + +
Obesity (adult) +++ +++ +++ ++ +++ ++ + +++
Obesity (infant) + + + + + + + + + + - + + + + + +
Anaemia +++ +++ - ? + - +++ ++
Vitamin-A deficiency +++ +++ - ? ++ + +++ ++
Vitamin-B deficiency + + + + - ? + + + + + + + +
Micronutrient deficiency +++ +++ - - ++ + +++ +++
Infant mortality + + - - + - + + +  
Cardiovascular disease ++ ++ +++ +++ ++ ++ + ++
Hypertension + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Diabetes +++ +++ ++ + +++ + ++ ++
Cancer ++ ++ ++ ++ +++ ++ +  
Gout/arthritis + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Dental disease + + + + + - - + + + + + +
Alcoholism + + - ? + + + ? + +
General morbidity + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +++ +++ +++

Source: Adapted from Thaman 1983a.

+ + + Very high positive correlation (i.e., a major determinant). + + High positive correlation (i.e., a significant determinant). + Some positive correlation (i.e., a complicating factor). - Not significant, no correlation, or a negative correlation. ? No data.

Although the percentages of total imports of foodstuffs have not changed significantly, the total values of food imports, and their value compared with the value of exports, has increased drastically. In Kiribati, for example, where the dominant locally-grown staple foods are coconut, breadfruit, and pandanus (together with the giant swamp taro Cyrtosperma chamissonis), the 1989 value of food imports was $8,580,000 (Australian), which was 134 per cent of the value of exports. The import percentage increases still more if beverages and tobacco are included. The situation is similar in Tuvalu, Niue, and the Cook Islands, where food-import bills are larger than the total value of locallyproduced exports. The decrease in self-reliance is even greater in American Micronesia, but less in Melanesia, although food dependency in urban areas is increasing rapidly there (Cornell 1984; Forum Secretariat 1991).

A study in Papua New Guinea comparing rural eastern highlanders with those living in urban Lae showed that, whereas sweet potato and other starchy foods provided 85 per cent of the dietary energy and 65 per cent of the protein in the rural area, rice had become the main staple - ahead of sweet potato and taro, with animal protein being eaten almost daily - in Lae (Jeffries 1979). The country's rice imports increased 40 per cent between 1975/76 and 1979, of which approximately one-half was consumed in rural areas (Bourke et al. 1982). Although energy, vitamin, and mineral intakes seem to be sufficient in rural areas where root crops, bananas, and tree foods predominate, the energy intakes in some low-income urban areas in the capital of Port Moresby, where 72 per cent of the energy was provided by flour, rice, sugar, bread, and biscuits, were the lowest ever recorded for the country: 1,200 kilocalories (5.0 MJ) for men and 1,035 kilocalories (4.3 MJ) for nonlactating women (Jeffries 1979). Sugar provided 11 per cent of the energy, whereas root crops provided only 9 per cent (Coyne 1984).

In Fiji, food-balance studies in the late 1970s showed that the total population received only 29 per cent of total energy from root crops and fruits (NFNC 1979). Of particular concern in Fiji is the increasing emphasis on the consumption of cassava; in some areas, its contribution to dietary energy rose from 36 per cent in 1953 to 59 per cent in 1963 (Parkinson 1984; Thaman and Thomas 1982' 1985). The increasing monoculture of cassava, which can be cropped almost continuously on even the poorest soils, has also been a factor in deforestation. Previously, yams, taro, and other traditional staples were more commonly cultivated along with trees as components in integrated agroforestry systems.

In Tonga and Samoa, similar trends are evident. Diets in urban Nuku'alofa contained more bread, sweet potato, cassava, mutton, pork, tinned fish, beef, butter, and tea than diets in rural areas, where more taro, plantain, coconut, ripe bananas, fresh fish, shellfish, green vegetables, and fruits were consumed (Jensen 1973). In Western and American Samoa, taro, green bananas, breadfruit, and coconut contributed 50-64 per cent of the dietary energy in rural areas but only 31 per cent on the more urbanized island of Tutu'ila, and only 20.5 per cent among highly urbanized Samoans in Hawaii (Bindon 1982; Parkinson 1984b).

In the Cook Islands, studies comparing rural Mitiaro with urbanized Rarotonga show that less than half the amount of root crops and one-eighth the amount of coconut, but over thirty times the amount of cereals (flour, bread, and rice) and nine times the amount of sugar were consumed in Rarotonga (Coyne 1984). In French Polynesia, where the trend is well advanced, by 1973 90 per cent of food intake was imported (Jacober 1977).

The changes are, however, most dramatic on some of the atolls, such as in the Tuamotu atolls of French Polynesia, where the traditional foods, such as taro and Polynesian arrowroot, have been all but forgotten and breadfruit and bananas are becoming rare. As early as 1956, Barrau (1961) found that flour, sugar, rice, biscuits, vegetables, fats, and tinned foods accounted for more than 2,000 kilocalories of individual daily food intakes.

In Tuvalu, where the traditional diet consisted of fish, coconut, breadfruit, bananas, and Cyrtosperma taro, by 1976 the island of Funafuti was 80 per cent dependent on imports for its food needs (Zimmet et al. 1981). In Kiribati, the per capita consumption of rice and sugar increased, respectively, three-fold (from 15 to 52 kg per year) and five-fold (from 8 to 40 kg) between 1950 and 1979. Even on rural Maiana, 60 per cent of the population regularly consumed sugar, 90 per cent flour, and 95 per cent rice (Pargeter et al. 1984). Studies on Namu atoll in the Marshall Islands in the late 1960s showed that 93 per cent of all copra income was spent on food, and that sugar, tea, and rice had replaced breadfruit, coconut, and Cyrtosperma taro as the most commonly consumed foods (Pollock 1970, 1974).

In parts of the Pacific, such as Tonga, where the traditional agro forestry system is relatively intact, the per capita bill for imported food has remained fairly modest - US$75 in 1984 (Heywood 1991, 75). Elsewhere, food dependency has reached far more vulnerable levels, as in French Polynesia with per capita annual food imports of US$554 (Hamnett et al. 1981).

Agroforestry and national development goals

Despite the relevance of agroforestry to modern development initiatives, few if any national development plans have formally included it in their lists of priorities or strategies, perhaps because trees and tree planting as components of agricultural systems "fall into the gaps" between the institutionalized sectoral responsibilities of "agriculture" and "forestry" (Chambers 1983).

An analysis of commonly stated national development objectives as well as of agricultural and forestry sector objectives from the most recent national development plans for Fiji (1985), Kiribati (1983), Papua New Guinea (1983), Tonga (1981), Vanuatu (1982), and Western Samoa (1984) shows considerable overlap, with the major objectives of national development being to

  1. improve productivity and the economic well-being of the country and its people;
  2. maximize national self-sufficiency and self-reliance;
  3. enhance the quality of life for all people, with particular em phasis on women, in both urban and rural areas - i.e., to distribute the benefits of development more equitably and to maximize the realization of the national human resource potential;
  4. preserve the culture and traditions of the nation;
  5. transfer or promote appropriate technologies; and
  6. conserve natural resources and protect the environment.

Sevele (1981) has argued that the wide-ranging development objectives "can be reduced to a few basic ones." These include:

  1. improved quality of life or standard of living;
  2. more equitable distribution of development benefits;
  3. increased employment opportunities;
  4. improved social and cultural facilities and services;
  5. protection of the environment;
  6. promotion of economic independence; and
  7. fostering regional cooperation.

Similar themes are seen in the more narrowly focused agricultural and forestry development objectives, with common objectives being:

  1. agricultural diversification;
  2. promotion of appropriate agricultural technologies and farming systems, both modern and traditional;
  3. strengthening of agricultural infrastructure, including extension,
  4. credit, transport, storage, processing, and marketing; improvement of the nutritional status of the people;
  5. increased selfsufficiency in timber and fuel wood; and
  6. promotion of social forestry or village-level agroforestry.

Almost all of these objectives could be furthered, either directly or indirectly, through the promotion of polycultural agroforestry systems. On the national level, in terms of encouraging import substitution, improving the balance of payments, and maximizing national selfsufficiency, agroforestry could have a significant effect in reversing dependency on imports and on ever-increasing foreign exchange problems. An expansion of agroforestry would also increase returns on underutilized natural and cultural resources and increase long-term productivity in both urban and rural areas.

Because almost all households can benefit from agroforestry, its systematic promotion on a national level could bring about more equitable and balanced development. It could also lead to improved use of scarce capital and aid and could minimize public expenditure through the maximization of self-help on the part of the communities involved.

For individual families, the economic importance seems to be great indeed, especially for unskilled workers and poor urban immigrants, who would benefit from the fruit, medicines, firewood, and other products provided by trees and associated plants and animals. For example, in Suva, Fiji, many residents of government housing would not have been able to pay their rents if it were not for the estimated $812 (Fijian) per week per family (approximately US$9.514) they saved by growing their own cassava, taro, tree crops, other foods, medicines, and firewood on idle urban land and in home gardens (Thaman 1984a). The value of coconuts, toddy, firewood, medicines, and the wide range of products of the coconut palm would likewise be of critical economic importance, particularly in densely-settled-atoll urban areas such as Tarawa in Kiribati or Majuro in the Marshall Islands.

The money saved can be used for other purchases - for example, of fish, meat, eggs, or dairy products - to supplement proteindeficient urban diets. The significance of subsistence provision in urban areas was recognized at least 20 years ago in the British Solo mon Islands Protectorate by the Committee on Food Supplies (1974), which noted in its report that ". . . non-cash or so-called 'subsistence incomes' are more important in towns, and cash incomes more important in rural areas than has been generally understood."

Agroforestry development could contribute to tourism development by ensuring that workers in the tourism industry maximize their real incomes and maintain subsistence production as insurance against downturns in the fragile international tourism economy. Moreover, coastal reforestation and coastal agroforestry would enhance the beauty and stability of beaches, which are so important to Pacific Island tourism.

The social benefits of agroforestry are manifold and must be seen as contributing significantly to the quality of life and the protection of cultural values. For instance, social ties are maintained through the distribution of produce and provision of food for feasts; trees are provided for the recreational activities of children; and urban dwellers and their children, who often have limited knowledge of or appreciation of plants, are linked with their past through an understanding of the traditional uses of trees.

There is considerable scope for involving traditional or existing leadership, increasing local participation, and increasing the involvement of women in agroforestry development. On Aitutaki in the Cook Islands, for example, successful schemes for replanting the endangered coastal species Cordia subcordata and Thespesia populnea have met with considerable success and have created greater environmental awareness.

Given access to land, agroforestry and tree planting are technically within the means of even the poorest families. They depend on inexpensive and readily available time-tested local technologies, plants, and cultural practices rather than on unfamiliar, often expensive, and ecologically-suspect imported technologies such as hybrid seeds, inorganic fertilizers, pesticides, mechanized equipment, and imported food and fossil fuels. Inexpensive and often locally produced hand tools are the only implements required.

Agroforestry inherently increases agricultural diversification in predominantly monocultural rural areas, as well as helping with most other development objectives such as achieving self-sufficiency in food, livestock, timber, and fuel; promoting appropriate agricultural technology; improving nutrition; and taking pressure off existing forestry resources while bestowing to agricultural landscapes the environmental benefits of trees.

Existing models and the need for appropriate innovation

How can agroforestry be encouraged so that the many advantages of tree-rich agro-ecosystems are more widely realized? How can an arborocultural strategy be maintained or intensified? We suggested earlier that functioning models have long existed within the Pacific, and that these should provide the region with the basis for modern interventions and the further evolution of agroforestry systems. Modified forms have developed with urbanization and some forms of commercial agriculture. A few of the possible models are described in the case-studies in the following chapters.

Although there will remain a continuing need for innovation and for the modification of existing agroforestry systems, it should be remembered that the existing systems have never been static; they are the product of constant evolution and selection over centuries or millennia and are evidence of the continued willingness of Pacific Island agroforesters to make rational decisions to adapt their systems to changing conditions and technologies. Because the existing systems are largely endogenous, rather than imposed in accord with the beliefs of urban-based governments or aid-funding agencies, the incremental improvement of existing systems - as by the introduction of appropriate new species, varieties, and technologies - offers a strong, locallybased means of promoting sustainable development in the small-island states of the Pacific Ocean.