Katie Ridder '24, Major: Conservation
Faculty MentorDr. Jenny Khan
Rurutu is a small, isolated island in the Austral Island archipelago of French Polynesia. Many of its ~2,000 residents practice subsistence farming and fishing and irrigated taro farming that is seen by residents as integral to their connections to the land and their ancestors. Since the building of an airstrip in the 1970s, small planes travel between Tahiti and Rurutu weekly. This has facilitated an exchange system, whereby Rurutuan farmers put taro on planes for sale in Tahiti, in exchange for other goods, like rice and meat.
This opening up of Rurutu to wider interaction spheres may threaten the persistence of the sustainable taro farming practices and may have impacts on the island's soils and waterways. Hence, the conservation challenge is to work with the Rurutu community to explore the environmental impact of newly adopted farming practices compared to traditional cultivation methods that Rurutuans have used for the last 1000 years are the most sustainable of options. Rurutuan community members, including the government (mayor's office), the council of elders, and local farmers, debate whether the adoption of commercial farming practices is detrimental to their island's cultural and natural environment.
Katie worked with Dr Kahn, local stakeholders in Rurutu, and farmers to explore the impacts of taro farming on water and soil resources and identified the factors that make this practice sustainable for protecting biodiversity and the natural resources in Rurutu.Given that food security is a global issue worldwide, understanding and learning from the sustainable farming practices in Rurutu may help inform sustainable practices for for small-scale farmers globally. Projects that allow small-scale traditional farmers to continue to farm sustainably with good productive output ultimately will provide food security to communities and healthier food choices that are culturally valued, as well as providing local economic opportunities that are sustainable.