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Food scarce four months after cyclone

Monday 27 June 2016 | Published in Regional

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FIJI – The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation says a shortage of fresh fruit, vegetables and fish in the wake of Cyclone Winston is leading to cases of malnutrition.

The President of the Rakiraki Womens Market Vendors Club, Varanisese Maisamoa, says vendors and growers are down on their knees after crops were badly hit by Cyclone Winston four months ago.

“One of my producers usually brings twenty bags of cassava to me and this week she can only manage two bags. Her plantation was very badly damaged.”

Maisamoa says there are hardly any fruits like bananas, oranges or pawpaw in the market at the moment.

And the shortages are pushing prices up so that a bag of eggplant that used to cost 10 to 12 dollars is now selling for $70.

A UN Food and Agriculture Emergency Response Officer Phillipe Martins says damage to fishing boats and fishing equipment in the cyclone means there is also a lack of fish in the markets.

He says the lack of fresh produce is leading to some cases of malnutrition in remote islands and villages around Rakiraki, and in Ba and Ra provinces.

“I mean obviously we are not talking about numerous cases and we are not talking about a high crisis but there are some cases of malnutrition – and in a tropical country like Fiji you shouldn’t have malnutrition. So the situation is not at all normal in Fiji right now.”

Martins says the biggest concern is for the impact of poor nutrition on the development of children.

“Its a key moment in the growth of the children. That’s where it is more risky because if those cases of malnutrition are not immediately treated, there is the risk for the growth of the children in the future.”

Maisamoa says she has not seen adverse health effects from the food shortages yet, but she is worried her children are not getting enough healthy food.

She says for the first three months after the cyclone they received rations of tinned fish, flour and rice from the government, but now they are trying to make a living on their own.

“We are not having enough food in our family at the moment. In terms of fruit there is hardly any fresh fruit for the children at home. Plenty of people are relying on canned stuff which I believe is not very healthy to live on.”

Martins says about 100,000 to 200,000 people live in areas affected by the cyclone that could be experiencing shortages of healthy food.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation and UN Women are working to increase produce supplies by providing market vendors with seeds, tools and fertilisers to replant their crops.

UN Women Markets for Change project manager Anna Parini says its a key initiative for the 1000 market vendors they’ve assisted, 700 of whom are women.

“In four markets in the west – Rakiraki, Tavua, Ba, and Lautoka – market vendors are also small farmers coming to the market to sell their own produce.

“So they have been doubly affected, not only they lost their produce, so their income as workers, but they also lost any means of ensuring food security for their families.”

Rakiraki’s Maisamoa says the vendors are very grateful for the assistance and she has heard that since the seeds have been distributed watermelon have begun to grow. She says more farmers have come to her looking for assistance and she hopes other organisations will step in to help. - Pacific Beat