Public Issue

Growing Nutritious Food on Pacific Atolls and Reef Islands

Local volunteer is helping 150 people build and maintain vegetable gardens in a tough environment

Tioromaea Taunun, a Latter-day Saint who lives in Tarawa, has volunteered his services and time to educate his neighbours. He rides his bicycle all over the island and teaches villagers how to build gardens on their property and provides them with seeds and seedlings furnished by Taiwanese Technical Farms (TTF). Presently he is working with 150 people.


Daniel Kitchen and his wife Rebecca (humanitarian missionaries serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), are learning new island gardening skills and are assisting Tioromaea with the task of teaching sustainable gardening to the locals.

Kiribati, a sovereign state in the central Pacific Ocean, is made up of 33 coral atolls and reef islands.

Historically, the people on these atolls and islands lived on the sustainable food sources that surrounded them. Fish, breadfruit, coconut and banana were the mainstay of their diets. The work involved in harvesting and gathering their food contributed to the fitness of the islanders.

With the introduction of rice, canned meat, white flour and sugary drinks and snacks, all of which are imported, the native diet and lifestyle were altered significantly and are now delivering the devastating side effects of disease, more particularly Type 2 Diabetes along with its cruel complications of blindness, heart disease, high blood pressure, ulcerated feet and amputations.

The World Health Organisation estimates that 30% of the citizens of Kiribati are known diabetics with many others undiagnosed.

In 2012, the “Food Initiative” was implemented in Kiribati by LDS Charities, the humanitarian arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Its purpose as defined by the Church's Pacific Area Presidency, was to address the issues of poor soil condition, sanitation and nutrition.

The initiative to grow gardens in Kiribati is particularly challenging because of location. Straddling the equator, the atolls provide a harsh environment. Heat, salty sea breezes and lack of soil are all problems that had to be addressed.


In partnership with the TTF, LDS Charities started programs to educate island residents on how to grow “keyhole gardens”—  a raised bed, composting, and recycling system all rolled into one.

Vegetables were chosen for the gardens by how well they thrived in the heat and island conditions along with their nutrient value.

TTF provided seeds and seedlings which were distributed to outer island residents initially.

Cucumbers, tomatoes, watermelon and bok choy were identified as vegetables that could withstand the hostile growing environment and provide needed nutrition. Sweet potatoes, which are high in vitamin A, a deficiency common among the children of Kiribati, are also helping to eliminate night blindness and xerophthalmia, an acute drying in the eye which can lead to permanent blindness.

On the main island of Tarawa, Latter-day Saint-owned land is being converted to a “learning garden." Compost from grass, sea weed (a great source of nitrogen), leaves from breadfruit trees and fish are being used to mitigate the existing soil, and will be used as a place of education.

Classes are being made available to the islanders where they can participate in cooking demonstrations and taste vegetables which until recently have not been part of their diets.

Learning a new healthy way of eating and living is a conversion process and as any other change in lifestyle, happens one person at a time.


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