Organic farmers from Fiji and Solomon Islands have arrived in Cuba to learn innovative agricultural techniques from the world leader of organic farming in a bid to improve food security and environment protection back home.
The learning expedition this week marks the start of a project by the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom)which is aimed at transferring low-cost and proven ecological farming practices from Cuba to the Pacific.
The five farmers taking part belong to three farming groups,Tei Tei Taveuni from Fiji and Kustom Gaden Association and the Zai na Tina Organic Demonstration and Research farms in the Solomon Islands.
The training, focussed on urban farming techniques, is being held at the Higher School of Urban and Suburban Agriculture and the Alejandro de Humboldt Fundamental Tropical Agriculture Research Institute (INIFAT) of the Ministry of Agriculture, Cuba.
Funded by the UN Development Programme GEF Small Grants Programme and the European Union-supported Increasing Agricultural Commodity Trade (IACT) project implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the project aims to become familiar with, then to transfer, low-cost and proven ecological farming practices from Cuba.
Practices of particular interest to the project include worm composting (which produces very high nutrient compost), intensive production techniques including micro-irrigation, and farm-based laboratories to produce biological means of pest control.
Lessons from Cuba will be adapted in the setup of pilot technologies on an urban farm in Honiara and in Fiji aligned to the Pacific Organic Standard that was endorsed by the Pacific Island Forum Leaders in Niue in 2008.
POETCom coordinator Karen Mapusua said the Pacific faces huge challenges of food security with increasing land degradation due to poor agricultural practices and chemical inputs.
The situation is exacerbated by climate change.
“Cuba established a wide network of urban farms to feed 80 per cent of its population who live in urban areas and has now perfected this system. This model is relevant for urban centres in the Pacific where communities are facing similar food security issues,” Ms Mapusua said.
“Improved methods need to be developed and incorporated in farming systems to safeguard food security while protecting biodiversity, combating the impacts on food production and land degradation linked to climate change,” she said.
Ms Mapusua added that traditional agricultural practices although safe and organic, are unable to sustain the nutritional demand of growing Pacific populations especially in urban areas where arable land is scarce and where non-traditional crops are being cultivated.
Over half of Fiji’s population and one-fifth of Solomon Islands’ people reside in urban areas.
“Organic agriculture in the Pacific needs to be ‘value added’ to ensure we can meet our food production needs sustainably,” she said.
SPC hosts the POET Com Secretariat in Suva, Fiji.