The Lapita people arrived in Tonga about 2,800 years ago. By about 1,550 years ago (400 AD) those early settlers had become Polynesians and to some extent shifted from maritime subsistence towards an increased reliance on agriculture and animal husbandry. Taro, yam, breadfruit, and banana became principal carbohydrate sources, and domesticated animals came to represent much more of the diet.
Traditionally, all the household requirements from agriculture were provided by small-holdings supporting complex, robust, and productive farming systems. These had developed into multi-storeyed rotational fallow systems utilising bush or grass fallow followed for several years by a series of root crops intercropped with coconuts and other tree species. They had proven sustainable in the past, but with increasing population pressures and land pressures for urban development leading to shorter fallow periods, fertility has declined.
The agricultural sector contributes 16% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and, including forestry, provides 44% of exports. About 75% of Tonga’s population lives in rural areas, with agriculture and fisheries as their main source of livelihoods. Tonga has one of the highest rates of subsistence food production among Pacific Island Countries.
A total of 13,944 agriculturally active households were reported in the 2015 Agriculture Census. Over 95% of the agriculturally active households were engaged in subsistence and semi-subsistence agricultural activities with only 5% engaged in commercial activities.
Today, agricultural land use is dominated by crop cultivation, followed by livestock activities, however about half of the agricultural land in Tonga is fallow.