The Nusatupe innovation hub - showcasing the best of sustainable Pacific Island food systems

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A new initiative aims to support Pacific islanders rise to the complex, interlinked challenges of climate change and food security, while promoting healthy and sustainable food choices. The Nusatupe innovation hub, in Solomon Islands, will showcase various aspects of a nourishing, sustainable, and climate-resilient island food system, with the aim of engaging and educating Pacific Islanders from the country and beyond.

Nusatupe is a narrow island in Solomon Islands’ Western Province. It contains little more than an airstrip that runs its entire length, a few houses, and a small but well-established office for WorldFish, which has been worked closely with the Solomon Islands government since the mid-1980s.

Over the years Solomon Islands has experienced several food system-related challenges. These include a growing reliance on imports of refined foods like rice and flour, and convenience foods, which tend to be cheaper, more accessible and have a longer shelf life than many domestically produced foods. The resulting dietary shift is associated with a rise in nutrition-related chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes. At the same time, rising sea levels and saltwater intrusion linked to climate change have affected the production of indigenous crops.

The idea for the Nusatupe innovation hub emerged from a partnership between WorldFish and the Kastom Gaden Association (KGA), a Solomons-based non-profit organization that works with local communities to improve food security and nutrition. The partnership’s island food systems vision recognizes the importance of Indigenous foods and traditional practices and strives to ensure these are taken into consideration in strategic planning. By creating a place to educate and demonstrate to Pacific Island communities in various aspects of a healthy, nutritious, sustainable island food system, the idea of a hub aligns with that vision. And with relatively easy accessibility and reliable solar power, the WorldFish station at Nusatupe was the logical place for it.

To help achieve the vision, activities at the hub promotes greater use of Indigenous foods such as cassava, yam, taro and vegetables, as well as improving fish handling, packaging and post-harvest hygiene practices. Educational classes on these topics and activities such as recycling are among the programs that will be implemented at the hub. A traditional agriculture garden will also be established at the site, featuring indigenous crops and enabling visitors to learn various skills, for example, ways to turn market waste into compost, transplanting processes for vegetables, and more.

As well as the garden, the hub will feature a demonstration site for aquaponics – a holistic, closed-loop system in which fish and plants are raised together, with fish waste providing nutrients for the plants, and the plants purifying the water for the fish. The hub will prioritise culturally important local fish species like the goldie river mullet, combined with cultivation of plants including leafy green vegetables, herbs and legumes.

With environmental restoration also key, the establishment of a protected area of reef offshore from the hub will act as a demonstration site for the cultivation of coral – known as coral farming. Aimed at everyone from school pupils to community leaders, it will teach them the intricacies of restoration and the complexities of coral reef ecosystems. Restored reefs will equate to more aquatic life, which in turn means more fruitful and sustainable fishing. These efforts reflect the ambition to scale up community-based resource management, which is the strategy of the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR) to achieve sustainable fisheries in Solomon Islands. Awareness, information and practical demonstrations offer a new model for “living lab” approaches to scale this national strategy.

Nurturing student engagement will be critical to the hub’s “marine lab” – a place where students can actively participate in experiments and conduct ecological field surveys as an integral part of their academic program. This hands-on experience is expected to help foster the next generation of scientists and environmental stewards.

Last but not least, the hub will also serve a dual purpose as a demonstration site and training facility in relation to the use of novel technologies, such as solar technology. It will provide training in solar maintenance and support, envisaging a role for solar in local development and as a response to climate change. Already the WorldFish Nusatupe Station is powered entirely on solar energy, which provides lighting, runs fridges and ensures the team has access to the internet.

Moving ahead

 Central to the Nusatupe innovation hub is the community-based resource management approach, which underpins the national model of sustainable fisheries in Solomon Islands. To make the hub a reality, WorldFish will also involve key local stakeholders including the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources (MFMR), Solomon Islands National University (SINU), and the Western Provincial Government (WPG), with the aim of supporting cooperative research and knowledge sharing. But ultimately, the vision is for the hub to provide a service to a much wider audience, as Dr Greg Bennett of WorldFish, the hub leader, explains:

“It won’t just be a hub for Solomon Islands; the challenges faced here are echoed across Pacific Island nations,” he says, envisaging visitors coming to learn from the hub, and taking the knowledge and insights back to their communities in Fiji, Vanuatu, Kiribati, and elsewhere. “It’s not just about fish in the sea; it’s about what we can give back to the whole Pacific Island community.”

Kastom Gaden has already started work on the backyard garden, demonstrating the hub’s commitment to sustainable practices. In addition, and with support from Western Province fisheries officers, a stock of seaweeds has been collected and planted in the nearby Marine Protected Area, and volunteers have commenced work to replant coral in the marine protected area in front of the WorldFish offices.

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