A 5,500-acre region located on the Fijian island of Vanua Levu and owned by Kiribati’s government is set to be developed into commercial agricultural land, a move the government says will help provide nutritious food for the people of Kiribati.
The estate, known for its sustainable soil, was initially bought in 2014 by the former Kiribati government to serve as a climate change refuge for up to 70,000 citizens should rising seas rule the nation’s atolls and coral islands uninhabitable.
The development shift to agricultural land, made possible thanks to “technical assistance” from China, comes after scientists dispelled fears that the Pacific island nation is sinking.
A recent study from the University of Auckland shows hundreds of atolls across the Marshall Islands, Kiribati and the Maldives have grown up to 8% in size over the past six decades. A similar report from 2010 shows three urbanized Kiribati islands increased by at least 12.5% over the past few decades thanks to new coral reef sediment.
Kiribati and China to develop former climate-refuge land in Fiji https://t.co/t5OFhlccT2— Guardian Australia (@GuardianAus) February 23, 2021
Regardless, the move has angered many locals.
On Twitter, one user wrote, “our leadership is literally selling our future out to China,” while another blasted the government for failing to provide details on who would farm the land, precisely what would be grown, and who it would ultimately benefit.
Kiribati President Taneti Maamau has unequivocally denied selling or gifting the land to China.
“A strategic plan for the land in Fiji has been developed, and we are seeking technical assistance from China to further improve the plan, including ideas for the actual projects and activities,” a press release from the president's office said. “The land in Fiji is ideal for future development to address the needs of Kiribati given the suitable soil for agriculture and access to the seafront and port. The government considers the development of the land in Fiji as an investment opportunity for the benefits of all i-Kiritabit people.”
Kiribati, the nation with the lowest gross domestic product per capita throughout the Pacific, has long struggled with food security due to its inherent climate vulnerability, minimal land area, overpopulation, lack of clean water, and low elevation of islands.
Almost all vegetables are imported, according to the Guardian, with the majority coming from Australia, Fiji, and China.
Over half the adult female population and over 40% of the male population live with obesity, and progress toward global nutrition goals like reducing obesity and rates of diabetes remain either unchanged or worsening. The population whose food intake is insufficient to meet continuous dietary energy requirements has also increased each year since 2015.