In coastal communities in Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste, we are helping to strengthen people’s own inventive solutions or build on their existing assets to enhance fish-based livelihoods.
Poverty, vulnerability and inequality persist in many sectors of Pacific Island society. Women, men and youth frequently have limited opportunities to improve well-being outside of natural resource exploitation and, in many cases, current livelihoods do not offer a pathway out of poverty and food insecurity.
Development investments often deliver ‘white elephants’—costly and poorly integrated infrastructure that is left unused. In coastal communities in Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste, we are helping to strengthen people’s own inventive solutions or build on their existing assets to enhance fish-based livelihoods.
Preserved sardines in Timor-Leste
In the village of Beaucou in Timor-Leste, we worked with a women’s group to develop and market fish-based products. The women buy sardines as soon as they are landed and clean, scale and prepare them for sale. Their recipe uses locally grown garlic, red onion and peppercorns. The cooked sardines are placed in glass jars that can be stored, distributed and sold at markets. The fish are eaten whole—a local delicacy that supports micronutrient intake, for example from minerals in the bones.
The emphasis in this project was on co-identifying the opportunities that people see as immediately available, then working together to explore these opportunities in practice. We opted to work with the women in Beacou because they are well organized and have financial skills from earlier development initiatives. They had the knowledge on how to cook the fish but required assistance to catalyze their ideas into a small-business enterprise.
Solar-powered freezers in Solomon Islands
In Solomon Islands, we work with a network of women’s savings clubs with over 1000 members in Malaita Province. Their idea was to test whether solar-powered freezers for storing fish and other foods could improve their livelihoods in an area that is decades away from grid electrification.
We arranged three solar-powered freezers in three different villages as pilots. The groups have targets for how much they need to save to show that they are on a trajectory to replace any machine parts within their expected lifetime. For example, a battery lasts for about five years.
Four months into the pilot, two of the groups had saved twice their target amount. The women store their food in the freezer and make money from renting out freezer space in the village. Freezer committees now operate small-scale enterprises in nine remote villages.
At the end of 2018, a total of 278 unique customers had used the freezers to store foods, and the freezer committees had earned in excess of USD 2800 (the cost of one freezer). As the freezer technology becomes cheaper and more available, it could transform remote Pacific Island food systems.