Climate Adaptation Practices in Fiji Are Influenced by Social Norms and Cultural Values

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Fiji, as a developing small island nation, is very vulnerable to extreme climatic conditions. Strong cyclones resulting in floods visit the country regularly, causing widespread damage and losses to property, livelihood, and infrastructure.

The paper examined the climate adaptation strategies of indigenous Fijian communities and households in the lower Ba River Catchment in Western Viti Levu and how are they influenced by socio-cultural values and access to resources, information and power. The study was jointly authored by Andreas Neef, Lucy Benge, Bryan Boruff, Natasha Pauli, Eberhard Weber, Renata Varea.

Researchers have carried out a series of field studies to examine climate adaptation strategies of the downstream communities and households of the Ba River Catchment after they were affected by two major flood events in 2012. The area was also hit by major cyclones – Cyclone Evan in 2012 and Cyclone Winston in 2016.

Data showed that Fijian’s local adaptations are not necessarily based on scientific knowledge but instead “have developed in socially and culturally relevant ways.”  

Fijian communities’ climate adaptation practices revealed in the study consisted of mobility, storage, diversification, communal pooling, and market exchange.

The first one, mobility, refers to the movement of livestock and fields and relocation of individual household and communities to new areas, whether on a temporary or permanent basis after a flooding event.

According to the study, relocation can be hampered by senior members who are reluctant to leave because of cultural and historical ties. Other reasons would include lack of provision of external support and resources. Younger generations tend to turn away from subsistence farming and wage labour and wanted to relocate.

Storage refers to the community’s capacity to store water, food, fuel, livestock and household items in preparation for disasters. Research data show that communities have limited storage capacity during a disaster and have expressed a desire to construct the community’s food and water storage to increase their resilience against floods and disasters.

Diversification refers to the changes that communities made in their livelihood practices, behaviours and beliefs to become more resilient. Communities have diversified their agriculture and have adapted their fishing practices to maintain a basic food and income security level.

Communal pooling refers to a community’s joint ownership and pooling of its assets, resources, labour, information, and knowledge during floods or disasters. 

In Fiji, village schools are used as evacuation centres. Members pool their labour for reforestation, planting mangroves, and constructing drains to channel floodwaters. Those who have access to food and water share these resources with the rest of the community during disasters.

These adaptation strategies show that the community’s ability to cope with disasters is closely linked with their social networks or through a pre-existing network of trust, communication, and support.

Lastly, market exchange refers to the community’s access to the market, insurance, and trade for adaptation.

After a flooding event, the study finds market exchange plays a limited role in adaptation after disasters. Instead of selling their agriculture crops and fish harvest in the market, they keep it for household supply and consumption. However, household savings work as insurance and help to strengthen food and income security.

The study reveals that Fijian communities and households’ climate adaptation strategies can vary widely and are deeply embedded in a complex set of social norms and cultural values that can either enable or restrict adaptation.  

The study attempted to understand how highly localized adaptive practices have shaped the community’s long term risk reduction. The study says that when rolling out adaptation strategies, it pays to recognize the complex socio-cultural norms of the community and their “diverse local practices rather than attempt to shape their practice according to a standardized metric of disaster risk reduction and adaptation.”

To view the study, click the link below:

If you want a copy, please contact, Andreas Neef (

Source Citation:

Neef, A., Benge, L., Boruff, B., Pauli, N., Weber, E., & Varea, R. (2018). Climate adaptation strategies in Fiji: The role of social norms and cultural values. World Development107, 125-137

PHOTO CREDIT: Andreas Neef

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