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Framing food security in the Pacific Islands: empirical evidence from an island in the Western Pacific

Abstract

Food security on Malo Island in Vanuatu is examined. All trade between Malo and the outside world passes through a beach on the neighboring island. Data collected there, and on Malo itself, during a long period of fieldwork in 1997—with a short follow-up in 2007—are used to describe the island’s food system qualitatively and in terms of energy availability. The data indicate that 20 % of calories come from food imports, which could be easily substituted with surplus subsistence production in most years. The food system is then analyzed in terms of food security, with consideration given to past and present food systems in the context of economic and climatic variability. The contemporary food system is found to be not only resilient, but far more so than that which existed prior to the commencement of sustained contact with Europeans from around the turn of the twentieth century. While there is some localized pressure on land caused by the dual drivers of population growth and extensive cash cropping, Malo people have been finding innovative solutions that have adapted “traditional” practices and institutions. These findings demonstrate that not all Pacific Islands fit the portrayal of the Pacific as an undifferentiated region characterized by vulnerability and food insecurity. They also demonstrate the importance of social resilience, in this case the adaptive capacity of traditional practices and institutions, to the sustainability of social–ecological systems. The article concludes with reflections on the policy and ethical challenges posed by the “Pacific food insecurity narrative.”

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Acknowledgments

I am grateful to Mike Bourke, Sango Mahanty, Keith Barney, Rebecca Monson, Timothy Sharp, and two anonymous reviewers for constructive feedback on earlier drafts and to the guest editors for inviting me to contribute to the Special Issue. Funding for this research was supported by the Government of France and The Australian National University.

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Correspondence to Matthew G. Allen.

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Allen, M.G. Framing food security in the Pacific Islands: empirical evidence from an island in the Western Pacific. Reg Environ Change 15, 1341–1353 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10113-014-0734-5

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Keywords

  • Food security
  • Sustainability
  • Resilience
  • Agriculture
  • Island Melanesia
  • The Pacific Islands