PRA tool to assess climate change vulnerability of Pacific communities
Thursday, 30 May 2013 09:53
Determining the degree of vulnerability of a community to the projected effects of climate change is a good index for planning adaptation strategies aimed at bolstering resilience to these effects in order to improve the community’s food security.

Measuring a community’s vulnerability requires an assessment of a set of parameters. Using a holistic approach based on the tools of participatory rural appraisal (PRA), quantitative and descriptive information is collected from communities on three tenets of vulnerability – exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. The higher the index, the more vulnerable the community is to projected climate change effects.

The use of PRA tools to assess the vulnerability index of Pacific rural communities is the cornerstone of the SPC-based USAID Project: Enhanced climate change resilience of food production systems in Pacific Island countries. All six project countries (Kiribati, Fiji, Solomon Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu) are finalising the vulnerability assessments of targeted communities, following country visits of PRA teams.

The Samoa team recently completed PRAs for their two sites: Sapapali’i (Savai’i) and Savaia, Lefaga (Upolu).

The two sites were chosen after initial consultations with national stakeholders representing the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the Ministry of Finance, Samoa Women in Business, the University of the South Pacific-European Union-Global Climate Change Alliance (USP-EU-GCCA), farmer groups and non-governmental organisations. The two sites comply with project criteria, including a ‘ridge-to-reef’ landscape, existing partner organisations, exposure to extremes of weather, and a solid governance structure.

PRAs are conducted within the village setting, necessitating observance of cultural etiquette and participating in the welcome ava ceremony and exchange of gifts. Polynesian societies are highly hierarchal. Extended families, headed by a matai, make decisions about the welfare of family members, which could number up to twenty. The matai is a member of the village council, which looks after the affairs and well-being of the village. For example, the council decides where a demonstration farm should be sited, and makes rules, such as banning pigs from the village and requiring them to be kept in pens in the farmlands instead.

The Samoa PRA team is led by LRD Climate Change Officer, Dean Solofa, and assisted by LRD officers, Valerie S Tuia (plant genetic resources), and Emil Adams (information and communication management). Samoa enlisted PRA stakeholders joining the team include cultural officer, Peseta Mulinuu from Internal Affairs of the Ministry of Women, Culture and Youth; agricultural extension led by Emele Meleisea Ainu’u plus two Savaii based extension officers (livestock and agroforestry); Savaii High Chief and President of Savaii environment NGO (Fa’asao), Tui Safua Moelagi Jackson; EU-USP-GCCA project in-country officer, Mr Tapu Tuailemafua; plus two agro-climatologists from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Tile and Cecilia.

Awareness presentations on climate change issues to increase understanding of how food security is impacted by climate change preceded PRA exercises. Lively discussions on the impact of rising sea levels, increase intensity of cyclones, and salt intrusion into food gardens drew a lot of attention from the communities. Villagers were also made aware of land development and clearing up on the ridges will ultimately affect their coastal habitation with increased flooding and sediment buildup impacting their food gardens.

After completing the PRA exercises, the team presented their findings to the communities for feedback and identification of demonstration sites for planned adaptation strategies. During the feedback sessions, the communities were made aware of the range of crops available from SPC, such as early harvest sweet potatoes and drought tolerant yams and bananas. Communities were also made aware of the importance of guarding their traditional knowledge to ensure survival of future generations in a changing world. Villagers showed keen interest to try out the range of crop varieties available from SPC.

Samoan village communities already have an adaptation practice in mixed crop farming, planting on a piece of land a combination of coconuts, cocoa, taro, bananas and yams, intercropped with fruit trees and small crops such as pumpkin, cabbages and beans. In this mixed cropping farm area one finds medicinal plants alongside natural insect repellent plants, plants used for firewood, and cultural plants (paper mulberry, mokosoi).

Post-PRA meetings with the Minister of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Hon Le Mamea Ropati, and his senior management team including chief executive officer (CEO), Fonoiava Seali’itu Sesega, and assistant CEOs Peseta Frank (Policy and Planning) and Misa Konelio (Research) proved successful with the Minister and management team offering their support for the USAID project. The SPC team briefed the Minister and management team on planned project objectives and seeking their input to facilitate the appointment of a national project coordinator.  A project coordinating committee will be finalised soon to drive project activities in collaboration with existing partners.

Joining the meeting with the CEO were the US chargé-d’affaires in Samoa, Chad Berbert, and Joseph Foltz of USAID Philippines, who has oversight of the SPC-USAID project.

In general, the PRAs for the two project sites found relatively high exposure and sensitivity indices and these, combined with relatively low adaptive capacities, produced high vulnerability assessments for the communities. Household income and expenditure survey (HIES) found a trend of increasing reliance on imported foodstuffs. With impacts of climate change inevitable, and despite the idyllic and tranquillity of Pacific village life, the two communities face an uncertain future where food security and sustainable livelihoods can be compromised. Developing work plans for adaptation strategies for the two Samoa sites is the next step, whilst the communities are finalising designated land and securing labour for the demonstration farms and construction of the nurseries.

For more information, please contact Dean Solofa ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), Valerie S Tuia ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), or Emil Adams ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ).

Photo caption: Chad Berbert (r), Deputy Chief of Mission and resident Chargé d’Affaires,

US Embassy Samoa (right), joins Savaia community consultations with PRA team member, Cecilia Amosa (agro-meteorologist) conducting HIES survey with head of household.