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PACIFIC ISLANDS NUTRITION Secretariat of the Pacific Community

December 2001

By Vizo Halavatau Senior Nutrition Planner Department of Planning, Tonga.


The Kingdom of Tonga is located in the South Pacific and encompasses a total sea area of around 360,000 square kilometers (144,000 square miles). The land area is around 750 square kilometers (300 square miles) and includes 171 islands, 41 of which are inhabited. There are four main island groups: Tongatapu (which includes ‘Eua Island), Ha’apai, Vava’u and the Niuas.

There are around 100,200 people living in the Kingdom (SPC’s 2000 mid-year estimate), with more than 60 percent living on the main island of Tongatapu. More than half of households are involved in agriculture, fisheries or making handicrafts.

The Kingdom of Tonga is the last remaining Polynesian monarchy. King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV is the head of state. The Privy Council, which includes the king and the Cabinet, is the highest executive body. The prime minister, the king’s third son, serves as the head of government.


This article is a summary of a paper by S. M. Halavatau and N.V. Halavatau. The full version will be published shortly by ESCAP’s Centre for Grains, Pulses, Root and Tuber crops in the humid areas of Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP is the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.).

Food security - a definition: Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy lifestyle’ (World Food Summit 1996).

Factors to consider: When considering food security in Tonga, the following areas need to be addressed:

· Food availability - local food production, cash cropping levels, and food imports; and

· Food utilization - influenced by personal choices and socio-cultural factors.

Farming in Tonga: The soils in Tonga are quite fertile, and these, combined with the sub-tropical climate, help to support good agriculture. Methods of fishing, animal farming and crop farming are still based very much on traditional practices. These generally give good yields, are sustainable, eco-friendly and resistant to natural disasters.

Availability of Root Crops: Data from 1996 show that on average 2.61 kilograms (5.742 pounds) of root crops are available per head per day, which is more than sufficient to meet needs. There has been a decline in recent years in land dedicated to root crops in some areas of Tonga, when land was turned over to farming squash for export to Japan. However, overall production of root crops has increased steadily.

Availability of Livestock: Numbers of livestock are high, including around 73,000 chickens and 39,000 pigs. While overall availability is high, local practices that encourage killing animals for special occasions can seriously affect year-round availability. For example, a single church conference can result in the killing of 250-500 piglets each day while the conference lasts.

Availability Of Seafood: Estimates were difficult to make, but suggest around 3,000 tons of fish per year. Combining this amount with the numbers of livestock shows that there are more than enough body building foods available.

Overall Food Availability: When imported foods were also included in the equation, the total amount of food available per individual was more than adequate (in terms of macronutrients), and has increased since 1983.

(The 1999 estimate of food availability per individual was 4,053kcal, 108g protein and 73g fat per day.)

Animal food sources accounted for 90 percent of available fat. This is associated with intake of locally produced fatty meats, but also with the increasing importation of fatty meat products such as corned beef and mutton flaps.

Threats of Stability: Natural disasters are of concern throughout the Pacific. On average, Tonga is hit by a cyclone every four years; however, recovery is fast and generally food production is restored to normal levels within six months. Problems are more severe when cyclones strike in consecutive years. Droughts tend to have a longer-term impact on agriculture.

Agricultural Export: The main agricultural exports are squash, vanilla and more recently kava. The drawbacks of increasing exports are that the money generated is generally spent on imported foods and there is a loss of land available for growing staple crops.

Local Market: There are a number of local markets throughout the Kingdom. Prices are not regulated, which means that during disasters, prices become inflated. However, most of the time supply is good, and prices moderate.

Imports: Comparisons of costs show that many imported foods such as rice and mutton flaps are cheaper than locally produced alternatives. Imports now cost Tonga around TOP 20 million (US$ 9,144,111) per year, and exceed food exports. Meat is the main imported food, followed by cereal products, dairy products, sugar and confectionery. The authors suggest that imports satisfy luxury demands rather than food needs.

Nutrition Security vs. Food Security: A very important aspect of food security is access to a nutritionally balanced diet. Tonga has overall food security; however, individual choices can have a marked effect on nutritional intake. Recent studies show escalating problems of diabetes, heart disease and obesity in the Kingdom and significant shifts in the diets of children and young people away from traditional patterns. Overall, people are becoming less active -- there are more laborsaving devices such as transport systems, and less need to actively farm or fish for food as food can be bought instead. Cash is increasingly available to purchase imported food and people are choosing it instead of traditional foods.

Feeding Tonga in the Future: Food and nutritional security is the ultimate target for the people of the Kingdom of Tonga. It can be achieved by improving agricultural technologies and regulating food imports appropriately. The long-term future must also involve careful consideration of the environment and sustainability. Currently, population growth is very low due to out-migration; however, it is estimated that by 2015 the population will have grown by 20 percent (due to a large youth population currently). Issues that need to be looked at in particular are as follows:

· While total crop production is high, yield per acre is low and could be improved.

· Food quality and safety standards need to be addressed to ensure nutritional food security.

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