Over the last four years Pepe Tofilau and her husband have been developing their four acre block at Aleisa into a living food bank with mixed varieties of root crops, vegetables and fruits.
Pepe says they have utilised two acres of their land to grow a variety of produce and her list is extensive..
“Bananas, taro, cassava, coconut peanuts, cocoa, corn, cabbage, cucumbers, tomatoes, and we’re currently adding more fruits and vegetable varieties,” she says.
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.
Pepe recently joined the Faleasi’u Womens’ Association and as a member, she was able to receive assistance with a 5,000 liter 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.
“We have a mixed-crop farm and we have to irrigate them daily” said Pepe. “We have spent up to SAT $300 plus on buying water hoses that reach far off into our land so that we can water the cocoa and the rest of our crops, but with this water tank we received through the PIRAS Project, we will be able to save money and easily water our crops.”
Although Pepe does earn a small income from selling excess produce, the purpose of their farm is to help sustain her family and loved ones while Samoa and the world faces the challenges brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“The main impact of the pandemic is the rising cost of living and high unemployment,” said Pepe.
Pepe is fondly referred to as “Mama” in her neighbourhood because of her generosity in giving away food crops to her family, friends and 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 said they were still able to distribute an abundant harvest of fruits and vegetables 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-19 hit 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 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 others like our lovely neighbors 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,” said Pepe.
“This will also mean that our neighbours crops will be protected so everybody wins.”
Last month the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) in partnership with the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) and the Australian Government began disbursing planting materials and farming equipment to selected organisations’ participating in the Pacific Island Rural and Agricultural Stimulus Facility.
The IFAD and Australian Government funded PIRAS Project currently being implemented by MAF aims to support food productions, improve nutrition and to 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.