Monday, 19 September 2011 9:20 AM

Vanuatu Livestock Sector Adapts to Climate Change Using Seasonal Forecasts

Climate change is affecting Vanuatu's livestock sector.

Impacts of climate change on animals include heat stress that comes with increasing temperatures and daily extremes; lower meat, milk and egg productivity; increased animal death from storms and cyclones; loss of grazing pastures and animal feed from wild fire and drought; and even damage to infrastructure that helps bring livestock to market.

Finding a way to meet these climate change challenges is a key priority of the Vanuatu livestock sector. 'We are doing everything we can to help our farmers find ways to adapt to climate change,' said Vanuatu Quarantine and Inspection Service director Mr. Benuel Tarilongi.

Now the Vanuatu Livestock Department is working with the Animal Health & Production Thematic group of SPC to come up with answers. In late August two livestock officers attended a regional workshop in Suva to discuss and identify climate change adaptation solutions for livestock, including pigs, cattle (beef and dairy), chickens, sheep and goats. Then in September, two experts, Dr Christine Jost, a consultant and SPC's Mr Nichol Nonga, facilitated a one-day workshop in Port Vila on livestock and climate change adaptation for officers from the Livestock and Agriculture Departments and the Meteorological and Geohazards Department (Meteo), as well as local NGOs.

The workshop focused on enabling farmers to use seasonal forecasts to make livestock management decisions. Every month, Meteo puts out a three-month rainfall outlook. Currently, Meteo is forecasting that for October, November and December most of Vanuatu will have normal to above normal rainfall.

The SPC staff and the consultant also visited Boufa Farm on Efate to evaluate farm development plans, since Vanuatu National Provident Fund (VNPF) is investing in livestock as a major source of revenue for its shareholders. They made recommendations to improve productivity by considering erosion control, improved climate tolerant pasture grass species, the design and layout of animal pens for shade and shelter, and even the establishment of integrated livestock and forestry production (for shade, soil water retention and wind protection).

The group (Consultant, SPC, Livestock & Agriculture and Meteo officers) also visited Pele Island where the Pacific region's first livestock climate change adaptation pilot site is located. The Pele Island committee and Livestock Department have jointly designed and built a climate change resilient pig trial facility, where different types of adaptation options are being tested. They are looking at pig nutrition, the use of manure and composting for integrated agriculture, appropriate fencing materials, provision of shade and shelter and, most importantly, cross breeding different varieties of pigs that will be more resilient to climate change.

During the Pele Island visit, the Meteo officers trialled a new approach to disseminate their seasonal rainfall forecast. It involved asking villagers about traditional climate signs and environmental cues. After the community had presented their traditional knowledge forecast, the Meteo officers presented their own forecast, and the group discussed how these forecasts were both similar and different.

Now it is up to the livestock farmers to make good use of this information. For the next three months, they and the experts will be on the lookout for outbreaks of animal diseases such as hoof rot and skin diseases, which occur more frequently in wet weather.

The farming community will also begin to provide dry shelter for pigs and chickens so that they continue to eat well and grow, even during the heaviest rains. They also plan to tether animals such as bullocks and goats in areas that do not flood.