The livelihoods of many people in Fiji and Tonga are reliant upon services derived from landscape resources including agriculture, forestry, livestock, and fishing. In the last agricultural census undertaken in Fiji, 40% of the farms operated an area of less than 1 ha and 39% of farms operated an area of between 1 and 5 ha. This includes many farms with a subsistence or semi-subsistence orientation. In Tonga 86% of households are agriculturally active (engaged in in livestock, cropping, fishing, forestry, or handicrafts). The commercial agricultural sector in Tonga is small with only 5% of farmers being commercially orientated.
In both Fiji and Tonga agriculture (broadly defined to include fisheries, forestry, livestock, and cropping, according to census data returns in these countries) has been identified as a sector for growth as part of wider development strategies. At the same time, the capacity of communities to derive services from rural landscapes to support livelihoods in Fiji and Tonga is under threat from several interacting and dynamic stresses. These include changes in agricultural trade, climate change, land degradation, land tenure, and demographic and socio-economic trends. In Fiji there has been a decline in sugarcane exports along with an increasing share of exports of non-sugar crops. The contraction in sugarcane cultivation also impacts income earning opportunities through reduced labour demand for proximal communities. In Tonga, there has been a decline in squash export.
Both Fiji and Tonga are exposed to climate variability, climate extremes, and climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) predict a median change in temperature of 1.2oC and projected sea level rise of 0.5-0.6m by the end of the 21st century in the South Pacific. Subsistence farmers and fisheries are among the livelihood sectors reported as being most severely impacted by cyclone activity. Both Fijian and Tongan agricultural policy recognises the threat posed by climate variability and change.
Governance and awareness
Alongside the climate stressors facing rural communities in Fiji and Tonga, there are also several barriers, apparent at multiple levels, to effective response to climate change and variability. These include the small number of personnel with skills and responsibilities to effect climate change programming in Pacific Island country governments, governments focused on socio-economic development as opposed to sustainable development, a lack of enforcement of climate policy, the role of international agencies and donors being misaligned with the needs of Pacific Island countries, and inadequacies of some technological responses.
At the community level, alongside a lack of resources to utilise in adapting to climate stresses, a lack of awareness of climate issues, and an inability to access information in appropriate formats, precludes adaptive capacity and climate-sensitive environmental management.