Agriculture in Tuvalu

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Coordinates: 7°28′31.4″S 178°40′31.3″E / 7.475389°S 178.675361°E / -7.475389; 178.675361

Agriculture in Tuvalu is based on coconut and swamp taro (Cyrtosperma chamissonis), (known in Tuvalu as Pulaka),[1][2] which is similar to taro (Colocasia esculenta) but "with bigger leaves and larger, coarser roots"; taro is also cultivated in Tuvalu.[3][4]

Bananas and breadfruit are supplemental crops.[5] The dried flesh of the coconut (copra) is the main agricultural export of Tuvalu, with other agricultural products consumed locally. Because of the young geological age of the reef islands and atolls and high level of soil salination the soils is relatively poor. Wealth and status in traditional Tuvaluan culture was determined by possession of pulaka and taro pits and coconut trees.

Traditional use of broadleaf forest[edit]

Charles Hedley (1896) identified the uses of plants and trees that were harvested from the native broadleaf forest as including:[6]

While some use is made of traditional flora, modern Tuvalu imports building materials and other products to replace the things traditionally harvested from the native broadleaf forest.


The cuisine of Tuvalu, is based on the staple of coconut which is used in different forms with coconut water, coconut milk and the flesh of the coconut being used to flavour dishes. Various desserts made on the islands include coconut and coconut milk, instead of the animal milk.[7] Apart from its food value coconut palm leaves and wood have traditional uses as building materials.[5]

From the mid 19th century traders in Tuvalu were active in the acquisition of copra and coconut oil, which were mainly used to manufactured into other products.[8][9] In 1892 Captain Davis of HMS Royalist, reported on trading activities and traders on each of the islands visited:[10]

Island Production Annual export of copra
Nukulaelae Copra, taro, popoi, a few bananas, a little sugar cane About 10 tons copra
Funafuti Copra, taro, pulaka (swamp taro), Bananas, sugar cane, bread fruit About 25 to 30 tons of copra
Nukufetau Copra, taro, pulaka, pandanus, a little sugar cane, a few bananas About twenty tons copra
Nui Copra, taro, pulaka, pandanus, a few bananas, a very little sugar cane and bread fruit. About 100 tons of copra - in a good year
Niutao Copra, taro, pulaka, pandanus About 50 tons copra - in a good year
Nanumaga Copra, taro, pandanus 15 to 20 tons copra - in a good year
Nanumea Copra, pandanus, taro 30 to 40 tons copra
Vaitupu Copra, taro, pulaka, pandanus About 50 tons copra

In modern times there is lower demand for copra and coconut oil as other commodities can be substituted for what were the earlier uses of these products.


Grown in large pits of composted soil below the water table,[11] pulaka is the main source for carbohydrates. Pulaka makes up the bulk of the islanders' traditional diet; it is usually supplemented by fish.[12] Since the unprocessed corms are toxic, they must always be cooked, usually in an earth oven. The pulaka pits are at risk from increasing sea levels, which increase saltwater levels subsoil in the atolls and islands of Tuvalu. On Fongafale islet of Funafuti a survey of the pits that have previously been used to grow pulaka established that the pits were either too saline or very marginal for swamp taro production, although a more salt tolerant species of taro (Colocasia esculenta) was being grown in Fongafale.[13]

Changes in diet[edit]

Besides rising saltwater levels, "changing lifestyles and eating habits" also threaten the cultivation of the crop,[2] a process that began during and after World War II, when American occupying troops supplied the islands with imported foods and many pulaka pits are no longer maintained.[14] Imported foods are often high in sugar, leading also to an increase in the need for dental care.[15] The Tuvaluans benefited from the canned food supplied by the American forces, although the change in diet continued after the war, which resulted in long term impacts on health.[16] Tuvaluans adopted a diet that includes high levels of corned beef, rice and sugar. This food is consumed even when fish and traditional vegetables are available. This diet is believed to contribute to increasing levels of diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases among Tuvaluans.[17]

On Funafuti, the Fatoaga Fiafia Garden grows vegetables, including cucumbers, beans, pumpkins and Chinese cabbages, and tests salt-tolerant crops, such as a hybrid pawpaw.[18]

External links[edit]

  • Thaman, R.R. (May 1992). "Batiri Kei Baravi: The Ethnobotany of Pacific Island Coastal Plants" (PDF). Atoll Research Bulletin, No. 361, National Museum Of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved 8 February 2014.


  1. ^ Koch, Gerd (1990). The material culture of Tuvalu. Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. p. 46. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  2. ^ a b "Tuvalu could lose root crop". Radio New Zealand. 17 September 2008. Retrieved 10 May 2010.
  3. ^ "Leaflet No. 1 - Revised 1992 - Taro". Food and Agriculture Organization. 1992. Retrieved 10 May 2010.
  4. ^ Randy Thaman, Feagaiga Penivao, Faoliu Teakau, Semese Alefaio, Lamese Saamu, Moe Saitala, Mataio Tekinene and Mile Fonua (2017). "Report on the 2016 Funafuti Community-Based Ridge-To-Reef (R2R)" (PDF). Rapid Biodiversity Assessment of the Conservation Status of Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (BES) In Tuvalu. Retrieved 25 May 2019.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. ^ a b Hedley, Charles (1896). General account of the Atoll of Funafuti (PDF). Australian Museum Memoir 3(2): 1–72. pp. 60–63.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Hedley, Charles (1896). General account of the Atoll of Funafuti (PDF). Australian Museum Memoir 3(2): 1–72. pp. 40–41.
  7. ^ Peter Bennetts and Tony Wheeler (2001). Time & Tide: The Islands of Tuvalu. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-86450-342-5.
  8. ^ "A Brief History of Tuvalu: Christianity and European Traders". 2010. Retrieved 15 September 2013.
  9. ^ Doug Munro, The Lives and Times of Resident Traders In Tuvalu: An Exercise in History from Below, (1987) 10(2) Pacific Studies 73
  10. ^ Resture, Jane (2010). "TUVALU HISTORY - 'The Davis Diaries' (H.M.S. Royalist, 1892 visit to Ellice Islands under Captain Davis)". Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  11. ^ Koch, Gerd (1990). The material culture of Tuvalu. Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. p. 46. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  12. ^ Koch, Gerd (1990). The material culture of Tuvalu. Institute of Pacific Studies, University of the South Pacific. pp. 73–85. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  13. ^ Webb, Dr Arthur (March 2007). "Tuvalu Technical Report: Assessment of Salinity of Groundwater in Swamp Taro (Cyrtosperma Chamissonis) Pulaka Pits in Tuvalu" (PDF). Pacific Islands Applied Geoscience Commission, EU EDF8-SOPAC Project Report 75: Reducing Vulnerability of Pacific ACP States. Retrieved 5 May 2013.
  14. ^ Telavi, Melei (1983). "Tuvalu - A History". Institute of Pacific Studies and Extension Services, University of the South Pacific/Tuvalu Ministry of Social Services. Retrieved 10 May 2010.
  15. ^ Judd, Terri (15 May 2004). "Sailing the South Seas". The Independent. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
  16. ^ Resture, Setapu Asenati (March 2010). "TE MAAMA PALA: Continuity and change in coping with Tuberculosis in Tuvalu" (PDF). A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Masters of Arts in History - The University of Auckland, N.Z. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  17. ^ Panapa, Tufoua (2012). "Ethnographic Research on Meanings and Practices of Health in Tuvalu: A Community Report" (PDF). Report to the Tuvaluan Ministries of Health and Education: Ph D Candidate Centre for Development Studies - “Transnational Pacific Health through the Lens of Tuberculosis” Research Group. Department of Anthropology, The University of Auckland, N.Z. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 October 2013. Retrieved 16 March 2013.
  18. ^ Taylor, Alan (15 August 2018). "A Visit to Tuvalu, Surrounded by the Rising Pacific". The Atlantic. Retrieved 12 April 2019.