Over the last four years, Pepe Tofilau and her husband have been developing their four acres block in Aleisa into a living food bank with mixed varieties of root crops, vegetables and fruits. 

So far they have utilised two acres of their land to grow bananas, taro, cassava, coconut peanuts, cocoa, corn, cabbage, cucumbers, and tomatoes, and they are currently adding more fruits and vegetable varieties.

Living far inland of Aleisa with poor road structure and access to water, Pepe says their main expense is water irrigation for the maintenance of their mixed crops. 

Recently as a member of the Faleasi’u Womens’ Associations, she received assistance with a 5,000 Ltr water tank through the Pacific Island Rural and Agriculture Stimulus Facility (PIRAS) which seeks to help support sustainable food production, improve nutrition and strengthen inclusive local value chains. 

The IFAD and Australian Government-funded PIRAS Project currently being implemented by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries aims to support food production, improve nutrition and strengthen inclusive local value chains. 

The project comes at a crucial time to complement the Ministry’s ongoing efforts in creating new and sustaining livelihoods for those severely impacted by the effects of the pandemic, increasing import substitution activities while also strengthening food and nutrition security. 

“We have a mixed-crop farm and we usually irrigate them daily,” said Pepe. “We have spent up to SAT $300 plus on buying water hoses that reach far off into our land to water the cocoa and the rest of our crops. With this water tank we received through the PIRAS Project, we will be able to save money and easily water our crops.”

Although Pepe made a little income from selling some excess produce, the purpose of their farm was to help sustain her family and loved ones during the challenges brought on by the impact of the pandemic with rising living costs and high unemployment.

Pepe is fondly referred to as “Mama” in her neighbourhood because of her generosity in giving away food crops to her family, friends and a small community of tight-knit neighbours living off the grid, far inland of Aleisa.

“I depend on farming to live,” said Pepe “We don’t go to the market, we give our harvest of fruit and vegetables to those we know that need it.”

During the most intense part of the COVID-19 lockdowns this year, Pepe said their main setback on the farm was the inability to care for their taro plantation due to the restriction of movements however she also reported an abundant harvest of fruits and vegetables which were distributed to families and friends near and far who were unable to earn an income during the State of Emergency restrictions. 

“Our first setback when COVID-19hit was hard on our first lot of taro we were not able to nurture and take care of them, plus the problem of people taking from our land when we could not come to maintain our land due to restrictions” Pepe explained.

“During the lockdowns, we had heaps of food and because there are only two of us we ended up giving away food to help other families like our lovely neighbours and our families. We also take all the excess food to our families and friends when we take a trip to Savaii.”

Despite the challenges of living and developing in the rural farming areas, Pepe and her husband care deeply for the health and wellbeing of their community, which is why they continue to take an inclusive approach, leaving no neighbour behind as they grow their farming initiatives.

“Now that we have finished fencing our two-acre land with the help of the Samoa Agriculture and Fisheries Productivity and Marketing Project (SAFPROM) we have advised our neighbours that they can use the other end of our land to grow their food to feed their families,” she said. “With proper fencing, we will now be able to commercialise our farm by keeping out pigs and reducing incidences of thieving. This will also mean that our neighbour’s crops will be protected so everybody wins.”

This story was originally published at Samoa Agriculture Ministry on 08 June 2022, reposted via PACNEWS.

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