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Over their long histories, communities in the Pacific Islands have developed a variety of strategies to withstand different challenges (e.g., droughts, flooding, tsunamis and hurricanes). This ability to survive and adapt in the face of change -- also known as resilience -- is a major area for research in sustainability and conservation science. Today, unprecedented change -- including climatic, environmental, demographic, and cultural change -- is testing the resilience of Pacific communities.
We are working with partners in four communities in Western Province, Solomon Islands to support local efforts to meet these challenges. One of the main objectives of the project is to work alongside communities to better understand and enhance their resilience and to identify the most important aspects of their community that they would like to maintain and improve. This includes developing indicators together with communities to assess, measure, and make plans to manage their valued natural resources in order to meet locally defined goals and priorities.
Early in our work, we learned that community members were concerned about changing diets and related health consequences. As is happening across the Pacific, people are eating more nonlocal, processed foods. Dwindling fish stocks, declining soil fertility, and decreased interest in agriculture (especially among younger generations) are all negatively affecting local food production. In addition, cultural traditions contributing to food security, such as sharing fish and other food among extended families, are also under threat due to increased market orientation of many livelihoods. Adults are experiencing increased rates of “lifestyle” diseases such as diabetes and heart disease while at the same time many children are suffering from chronic malnutrition, resulting in impaired growth and development.
Using mixed methods, our research aims to understand what people are eating now, the nutritional value of that diet, and where the food comes from, both from a social and an ecological perspective (i.e., does food come from local gardens or reefs? From stores? Is it shared among family members?). By understanding these different aspects of diet, we hope to better understand some of the social, cultural, and ecological dimensions of food security, resilience, and the connection between communities and their land- and seascapes.