Friday, 16 December 2011 8:52 AM

New Farming Techniques Help Improve Food Security

Changes to farming techniques using mulching, composting and crop rotation is dramatically improving food production and the quality of produce being grown in Solomon Islands, says Kastom Garden Association.

Kastom Garden Association (KGA) Program Support Officer, Roselyn Kabu said since the new farming methods have been used, more food is being produced without degrading the soil.

"More than 100 people in Takwa'a Village in North Malaita took part in a four-day workshop last month to learn about better farming methods to improve quality and quantity of food production," Ms Kabu said.

"Some people walked for a day to get to the training, including people high up in the mountain regions, with many women and young people attending."

KGA training on plant and livestock husbandry, farming methods, pest and disease management, nutrition, health and use of simple technologies to suit local conditions is starting to make a difference.

The training was held during a week-long visit through Malaita Province by AusAID's rural livelihood team of Peter Wilson, Collin Potakana and Luke Simmons, to see the impact of projects linked to KGA and the Cocoa Livelihoods Improvement Project.

According to AusAID's livelihoods program manager in Honiara, Peter Wilson, Solomon Islanders are keen to learn new farming methods to help boost food production, quality and ensure long term food security.

"One of the key messages during the training is that food security is also about generating income and not just subsistence, Mr Wilson said.

"People in highly populated areas such as this can no longer rely on subsistence agriculture alone if they are to eat well and generate income for the necessities of life such as school fees and housing," he said.

One of the major benefits of these farming methods is that it enables people to stop using slash and burn cultivation. Slash and burn does not continually enrich the soil which means that subsistence farmers must constantly shift their garden plots to different sites. For many people, this can mean walking several hours a day to and from their gardens.

By using crop rotation, mulching and composting, farmers can cultivate their gardens around their homes and use the same plots over and over again. This saves precious hours each day and is particularly beneficial to village women who do most of the gardening that supports their household.

KGA's training in Takwa is also about people seeing their farm as a business.

"This includes focusing on particular crops to gain a market premium. This means that better crops can be produced with better margins for the labour provided, like the watermelons from this region which are the talk of the Honiara market when they arrive over the Christmas period," Mr Wilson said.

"Other messages included the need to plan and plant with the seasons to get the best results, but to also plant with the markets in mind. Farmers must know what regions are producing so that they can supply and get better prices when those regions cannot provide to the market."

KGA also provides training and resources to farmers through partnerships with organisations such as women's groups and farmers associations.

The message from Baetolau Farmers Association coordinator, Osanti Luda was that everyone needs to work smarter to improve the soil to get better results.

"If your soil is poor, you can work hard but you won't get good results. I have been using chicken manure, composted seaweed, crop rotation and mulching to improve the soil. It has helped me grow great watermelons, even a record size 78cm long water melon- the same soil used for crops for the last 30 years. The difference is the soil preparation," Mr Luda said.

Mr Wilson said at the beginning of the training, Mr Luda gave farmers in Solomon Islands money and asked what it meant to them.

"Initially we had answers like Taiyo or kerosene but when encouraged to think bigger, people started saying things solar power supplies, a house and education for their children."

"This shows the impact of what can be achieved by all Solomon Islanders, given the right information and opportunities- to manage money, plan for the future embracing new farming methods and fulfil those dreams for a better life."

AusAID recently signed a new three year funding agreement with KGA. The SBD20.18 million (A$2.53 million) agreement extends previous Australian support for KGA's program Strengthening Food Security for Rural Livelihoods. This is providing thousands of families with improved varieties of food crops and advice on more effective farming methods and family nutrition.

"With more than 84 per cent of Solomon Islanders living in rural areas, KGA's services reach some of the most isolated areas of the country. This is working to improve the amount of quality food grown in rural areas, create jobs and generate income for all Solomon Islanders," Mr Wilson said.

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