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Fijian communities lead way in climate change resilience

People in Fiji.
University of Southern Queensland’s Dr Lila Singh-Peterson (far left) has been providing training to Fijian communities.

As the impacts of climate change intensify, communities across the globe are working to adapt to the shifting conditions and put safeguards in place.

Among them is Fiji, a nation nestled in the heart of the South Pacific, which faces ongoing threats from natural disasters, including cyclones, droughts and flooding.

A specialist in climate adaptation and social resilience, University of Southern Queensland’s Dr Lila Singh-Peterson travelled to the country in April after receiving a Crawford Fund International Engagement Award.

Partnering with Fiji National University, the Fiji Ministry of Agriculture and the Sunshine Coast University, Dr Singh-Peterson trained local agriculture-focused researchers to conduct qualitative research.

“When there are cyclones, or some kind of extreme weather event, which happens almost annually in Fiji, there’s often a real issue with food security,” Dr Singh-Peterson said.

“Around 70 per cent of Fijian communities depend to some extent on local subsistence gardens, fishing and wild food foraging, which are greatly impacted during climate events.

“Often, Ministry of Agriculture extension officers and other local researchers with close ties with rural communities are aware of these challenges.

“With this training, we sought to equip these teams with the skills to conduct qualitative research and then transform this qualitative data into evidence they can use to advocate for these communities.”

Following the training workshops, the trainees undertook a community workshop with about 30 women from a village in Vanua Levu island.

The village was evacuated about three years ago following a cyclone and extreme rainfall, which led to fissures opening in the ground, destabilising homes and community buildings.

Dr Singh-Peterson said around 80 families had lived in tents since then.

“With support from the Crawford Fund, we organised a workshop with the women from the village to talk about food security practices, particularly with regard to storing and preserving food for the wet season, which occurs between November and April,” she said.

Using information gathered during the workshop, Dr Singh-Peterson and the team spoke about possible future changes in the climate and local impacts before identifying and ranking food preservation strategies that workshop participants thought would be useful for their community and others in Fiji to know about.

From this information, a brochure was developed to be disseminated by the workshop participants and trainees.

“The main finding was that food security is going to be an ongoing issue for many people as climate change intensifies,” she said.

“People are becoming more aware that they must start planning for disaster events.

“Revisiting some of these traditional food preservation techniques and identifying how best to store and preserve fresh food gluts, for example, remains important, although many of us have forgotten about these things.

“It was also good training for the local research team.

“They learnt how to facilitate workshops, undertake semi-structured interviews, record and transcribe this data and then report on what they were hearing as evidence so that the information can be passed on to policymakers.”

Find out more about research at the University of Southern Queensland.