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Sustainable land use in Tikopia: Food production and consumption in an isolated agricultural system


Ole Mertz (email:


The land use system on Tikopia – a Polynesian outlier in Solomon Islands – is analyzed to determine how it has developed since it was first described in the 1930s and again in the 1970s. Fieldwork included a household questionnaire survey, in-depth interviews on farming practices and decision making, and the collection of soil samples from the major soil and garden types. The Tikopian land use system has not undergone significant changes since the 1970s; indeed the focus on self-sufficiency in food crops may have been strengthened over the past 30 years as ship arrivals have become increasingly unreliable. Local agricultural production and exploitation of marine resources are essential to sustain the population, and with few exceptions farming and fishing techniques remain unchanged. Most of the island is still farmed permanently and the intensive agricultural system has not suffered long-term setbacks, not even from extreme events such as Cyclone Zoe in 2002. The high fertility of Tikopian soils reported in the 1960s was found to be unchanged. It is concluded that the land use system is highly resilient to shocks and that there are no indications that Tikopian villagers would not be able to support their subsistence in the future, provided there is no substantial increase in the resident (de facto) population.