Samoans return to land, ocean amid economic downturn

Following the COVID-19 led economic downturn, some Samoans have returned to the land and ocean to get by, new research by nursing students at the National University of Samoa (N.U.S.) has found.

Third year students enrolled in nursing at N.U.S. gathered information affected by the pandemic and their responses for an article published in the Oceania Journal. 

The result of the nine students’ survey is titled “Capturing the Experiences of Samoa: The Changing Food Environment and Food Security in Samoa during the COVID‐19 Pandemic”. 

“The COVID‐19 pandemic is unlike anything most of us have experienced in our lifetimes, apart from those who survived the 1918 flu pandemic,” the study says. 

“In the pandemic of 2020, Samoa has managed to date to keep the virus away from its shores, untouched by cases within its borders but inextricably linked to the global interwoven whole to which its people belong.

“With effects across the health sectors, economy, and education, the closure of borders and the cessation of the tourism sector, the statistics speak volumes, but at times these statistics mask the human, individual impacts of the pandemic.”

This piece brings together the stories of Samoan families and their struggle to secure food security. 

The stories were gathered by third year nursing students in an effort to humanise statistics about the pandemic’s economic toll. 

Food is an important component of Samoan culture, and a symbol of care and respect, the article says.

“While traditional foods are held dearly, the variety of foods available to Samoans has increased with globalisation,” the report states.

“An influx of cheaper and processed foods, along with changing cooking practices and dietary composition have led to an increase in prevalence of diabetes and obesity.

“Most of the land in Samoa is customarily owned and managed. Many Samoans grow food to augment their own food supply while others grow food for export or sale locally. 

“For those who do not have access to their own land or areas to plant, purchasing food is necessary. Along with unavoidable expenses such as electricity, water, rent, and school fees, this represents a significant financial burden.”

The personal stories contained in the article provide a personal glance into the lives of Samoans and their vulnerability and resistance. 

The students were assigned a photo essay project on the Samoan food environment and to contextualize their narrative with secondary data on the topic of food security. 

One of the locals featured in the article is Anthony Fretton who once worked for Taumeasina Island Resort.

He is one of the few who was placed on temporary leave by the resort due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Anthony Fretton[…]was one of the few who was put on temporary leave by the resort due to the lockdown,” the report states.

“After the measles outbreak last year and the pandemic this year, the tourism sector has been devastated. Since it was the only job that supported his family, Anthony is now fishing to provide for his family.”

Jin Fatu, an agriculture student at N.U.S. who lives with his family of nine began gardening to help support his family.

“Before the COVID‐19 lockdown, there were no gardens at home but since the lockdown he started planting the garden around his house to support his family. The garden was mainly planted with cabbage, taro, bananas, and papaya,” the authors write.

“Everything he planted in his gardens was to support his family with their daily meals.”

Mr. Fatu told the research team his family has more than enough so they have started to sell some garden produce and also share it with five families near them. 

Baskets of cabbage have been sold and the money used to pay for their electricity and water bills, and to pay the school fees of the children in the family. 

Mr. Fatu mentioned that in the beginning it was hard to adjust to a new way of living and consuming food. 

“But seeing the fruits of his garden and how they support his family motivates him to plant more. That is why he used the lands in his backyard to expand his garden. Since the COVID‐19 lockdown happened, he has had enough time to spend at home planting his garden,” the authors write.

“Since he does not work, he is now concentrating on his gardens for his family to have healthy meals rather than rely on imported foods that are now scarce and consequently very expensive.”

Mr. Fatu has two beds of cabbage at the back of his house and taro. He also has papayas and bananas ready for harvest. 

“Fatu and his family also have family plantations up the mountains where they keep cows and pigs that supply them with meat. 

“Therefore, his family does not need to get imported food from shops because they have enough food from their farm. Mr. Fatu encourages families in Samoa to do the same, because planting more vegetables and other plants that bear fruits will help them out through this pandemic of COVID‐19.” The article’s authors are: Tagialofa Emiliata, Priscilla Asem , Junior Levi, Tamala Iosua, Agalelei Ioane, Valu Seupoai, Mika Eteuati, Pesi Solipo, Tautane Nuu and Ramona Boodoosingh.




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