26.03.2018 Bruce Johnson is on an 8 week assignment in Tonga with the Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovation Tonga Trust (MORDI) as a horticulturalist. The aim of his assignment is to help address the need in Tonga following Cyclone Gita to re-establish food security.

Bruce shares with us why he is volunteering and what he is hoping to achieve during his assignment.

What inspired you to apply to volunteer with VSA?

I was in Tonga and due to return to NZ when the Cyclone Gita struck. The devastation that Cyclone Gita left in its wake was horrifying and the impact it had on friends here was heart breaking. It’s hard to imagine how things could be put right, certainly in the short term. Some of the food crops were badly damaged or destroyed during the cyclone and it was very clear that local production of food crops would be negatively impacted. Having worked on a farmer education/food security assignment here in the past I had some knowledge that could compliment the local skill base. So when asked to help with a food security and livelihood program I was more than happy to agree.

Bruce 1bruce 2


I didn’t take a lot of photos after the cyclone but scenes like these, of businesses that I have worked and one of a friends house (Luce with her five children and elderly mother were living in this house – currently they are calling a tent home), are what inspired me to do this assignment.


What are you hoping to achieve during your assignment?

The work I am involved with includes propagation and distribution of fruit and vegetable plant materials, and training around techniques to achieve this.


Since I arrived, we have built a shade house (1,054m2) here in Tongatapu which will be used for propagation. There is also an existing nursery in Eua (also very hard hit by the cyclone) that will be used for similar purposes. Local farmers will be involved in training on site at the nurseries where they can gain hands on experience with soil sterilization, propagation, nursery management and food production techniques etc. Seedlings raised in the nursery will be distributed to affected communities.


Before I leave, I’ll write a manual on nursery management that will be translated into Tongan.

The intention with the nursery is to have something that is built to last and be able to respond to disaster relief situations in the future. Sustainability will come through the training and systems developed while I am in country, and also on-going projects implement by MORDI (my partner organisation). An important aspect of this and future programs will be resilience and sustainability in the Tongan agricultural sector.

Additionally, a demonstration block of taro which was planted immediately following the cyclone. This has been inter-planted with corn and Papaya and a perimeter planting of pele (Ibeka). We have begun trials on this block with further inter-planting of fast maturing crops such as beans, beetroot, cucumbers, Chinese cabbage and pak choi.


Learnings from our work here will be used to inform wider planning on future food security issues in the wake of natural disasters.


What do you think will be the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenges will be how to finance reequipping the nursery, get it up and running, and getting everything done within the timeframe of the assignment. I’m fortunate though to be working with a great team of committed, hardworking and supportive colleagues. VSA’s support through the Cyclone Gita relief fund has been fantastic and will contribute not just to the success of this assignment but help in recovery from future natural disasters.

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