Long term: The Lifetime of a Tree or Person
ISLAND PLANTS: Ancient traditions, modern adaptability. Keeping people healthy even in climate change.
Traditional plants of the Marshalls were brought by Island people many centuries ago. They are adapted to atoll conditions: sandy soils and occasional inundation, storms and droughts. They are better able to withstand extreme conditions due to El Niño or climate change than almost any recently introduced species. Traditional and local fruits, vegetables and staple crops provide more vitamins and fiber than imported white rice, white bread, sugar, soda, and fatty meats. They help prevent Vitamin A deficiency, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and even cancer. Local plants support rich traditions: ceremonies, traditional medicine, basketry, and art.
GARDENING: Plant resilient trees and crops that can tolerate drought and salty conditions
- Traditional crops that will be strongest (least affected by climate change) in the next 20-40 years are pandanus, coconut, tapioka, giant taro, arrowroot, banana, bele, and citrus. For more detail see this assessment
- For lists of species that can grow on atolls with different rainfall and salt conditions, download an interactive spreadsheet . Go to the USDA NRCS website , scroll to “Plant Materials Technical Notes” and click #11 “Coral Atoll Agroforestry Plant Screener.”
- Varieties of pandanus (bōb) and breadfruit (mā) from the northern atolls can tolerate drought and salinity. Look for productive northern varieties; conserve those varieties; try them in southern islands that may be affected by climate change in the future.
- Giant land taro (wōt) is easier to grow and can tolerate drought and salinity better than true taro (kōtak) and giant swamp taro (iaraj). Varieties of wōt from Fais and other FSM islands might taste better. Ask R&D about introduced varieties!
- Garden crops that do not need groundwater can still be grown even if groundwater becomes saline. These crops include cassava (tapioka) and sweet potatoes.
- Edible hibiscus (bele) and tree spinach (chaya) are nutritious, leafy vegetable shrubs that are fairly tolerant of drier conditions. These species should be replanted by shoots every 2-3 months in partially shaded to open sites.
- Traditional agroforests have many different species, varieties and crops. This reduces risks because even if some crops fail, maybe the other crops will still produce a harvest. Having a mix of crops at one time (multicropping) or replacing one crop with another (crop rotation) helps reduce damage from insects and diseases
- Mulch and use compost to enrich the soil and help soil retain moisture. Compost farm wastes instead of burning them. Ask R&D for assistance chipping materials to turn into mulch or compost. Some crops grow best under the partial shade of trees.
- Raised beds can tolerate wet conditions and also avoid problems with salinized groundwater
- Improve catchment systems and use irrigation systems.
- Find the best possible location. Planting sites on larger islets generally have more groundwater resources. Planting sites that are inland yet at a higher elevation are further from inundations that may occur. Planting sites on the leeward side or where the reef crest is far from the shore are less likely to be inundated by large waves. These locations are better protected from high sea levels under La Niña conditions, and storms during El Niño conditions.
Enjoy TRADITIONAL FOODS that keep you healthy with vitamins and fiber
- Island foods have many benefits for Culture, Health, Environment, Economy and Food Security.
- In the Marshalls, traditional agriculture and healthy eating is a climate change strategy.
- Health and nutrition programs and courses can emphasize cultural pride in traditional food preservation of traditional foods using pandanus (bōb), arrowroot (makmōk) and breadfruit (mā, mejwaan); new methods of processing and storing nutritious foods; and traditional emergency foods such as lily (kieb) and Ixora (kajdo).
- Develop new food processing industries that focus on products based on local staples (arrowroot, breadfruit and pandanus).
Care for COASTAL FOREST that holds the shoreline and protects crops from salt spray.
- Coastal vegetation is a “natural defense” that can reinforce the shoreline, slow coastal erosion, and reduce the impacts from flooding. Island coastlines are dynamic (always changing) so coastal vegetation will not solve all problems. For a full understanding of coastal change and human actions that can affect it, see “Coastal Change in the Pacific Islands” Volume One [8 MB] [and the associated toolkit.
- Coastal forest is much easier to protect than to replant. Take care of what is already there! Here is guidance for coastal forest in the Marshalls.
Learn about the long-term effects of climate change in the Marshalls
What changes will affect agroforestry in the Marshalls and when? We still do not know what choices the world will make and exactly how the air and oceans will change in the long term. Let’s think about what the climate will be during the next forty years, because if we plant a coconut tree now, it will begin to bear fruit soon and will continue to be productive for at least forty years. Forty years allows time for coconuts, breadfruit and other trees to provide crops for children and grandchildren!
The natural cycle of La Niña and El Niño years (ENSO) will continue. The effects of these events (storms, rain and drought, sea level) are temporary (lasting 1–2 years) but strong. Their effects will be more noticeable than climate change for the next forty years. Scientists are not sure yet whether climate change will affect how La Niña and El Niño events happen.
Worldwide sea levels are now rising at least 0.3 inches per year, so they will likely rise at least 12.6 inches within forty years. In addition, sea levels may temporarily rise by 12 inches during a La Niña and drop by 5 inches during an El Niño event in the Marshalls. Sea level rise is also added to the effect of each king tide and storm surge, making inundation events more frequent. Generally high sea levels will increase the salinity of groundwater. This makes it important to choose crops that are relatively salt-tolerant. Plant agroforests where inundations are less frequent. For more information on the effects of sea level rise, see Sea Level Rise in the U.S. Affiliated Pacific Islands.
Air temperatures will continue to get a little warmer in the Marshalls. Hot days make trees and crops thirsty, so choose trees and crops that can tolerate dry conditions.
Rainfall has been generally decreasing in the Marshalls, but scientists believe it will increase in the future. However, within just the next forty years, any changes in rainfall will mostly be a result of the natural variability of rainfall in the Marshalls, especially the El Niño/La Niña cycle (ENSO). Therefore, choose trees and crops that can tolerate a variety of conditions and plant a variety of crops.
For more reading about the Marshall Islands and climate change, see Climate Change in the Marshall Islands and Climate Variability, Extremes and Change in the Western Tropical Pacific.