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Solomon Islands: Bringing agriculture and infrastructure services to rural island communities

Edith Bowles's picture

The expense of operating outboard motor boats means that visits to each community are few and far between.
In December 2008, I spent two and a half days traveling around the Solomon Islands with officers from the government’s Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, which is implementing components of the World Bank’s Rural Development Program (RDP) in Western Province. Jointly funded by the EU and Australia, RDP is the World Bank’s biggest project in Solomon Islands.

In December, the project was just beginning to get going in the provinces. The agriculture workers were looking to the RDP to help restore agriculture extension services. Practically speaking, this means purchasing small boats, outboard motors, fuel, or rehabilitation of offices. At the Ag offices, I was told about the series of dead outboard boat motors lining one wall – including provenance and whatever series of incidents had rendered them inoperable.

Workers expressed their hope that help from RDP would help turn the extension services around, allowing them to get back out to the rural communities with advice, research, and materials. First and foremost this would require mobility in order to reach the communities, which are dotted around the sprawling lagoons of the country’s Western Province. Agricultural extension trips, as I discovered, mean long days out on the water going from village to village. The expense of operating outboard motor boats means that visits to each community are few and far between.

Six months later RDP is well up and running. This month the project will disburse the first round of funds for small-scale community social and economic infrastructure projects. This first round will cover 47 grants in Western, Malaita, Choiseul, and Temotu provinces – four out of Solomon Islands’ nine provinces. The 47 grants will fund a wide variety of projects, chosen by community members and approved by provincial government, including solar panels, health posts, VHF radios (the only means of communication in most rural areas in a country where only 11% of the population has access to phones), staff housing for schools and hospitals, or community halls.

The agricultural component is also moving. Equipment has been delivered and rapid rural appraisals have started, allowing agricultural workers to begin to identify community needs and the long process of creating services which address them.