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The Magic in Kwai – organic farming for the whole community
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The Magic in Kwai – organic farming for the whole community

Kwai, in the Solomon Islands, one of the Commonwealth’s 54 member states, may be threatened by rising tides caused by climate change. But it is also home to a remarkable organic agricultural project, reports Ender Rence, a country information officer for the NGO World Vision.

Kwai Island is a tiny dot in the sea off the eastern coastline of Malaita Province, Solomon Islands. To locals, Kwai is approximately 500 meters long, its widest part being 100 meters.

It is approximately 3 km away off the mainland. Kwai is connected by a sand dune to neighbouring Ngongosila Island and passage by foot is possible only during low tides.

Kwai Island lies between the beautiful Lelie Island and the mainland. Travel to Kwai Island from the capital, Honiara, can be by air, sea and land. For example, it takes about three hours to get to Auki, the provincial capital of Malaita, by fast (express) craft.

Another two and half hours later by road and you are at Kwai. If you are traveling by air from Honiara, Solomon Airlines gets you to Atoifi in less than 40 minutes.

A bumpy 10-minute ride on an old tractor at Atoifi brings you to the unspoiled coastline surrounded by aqua blue water of the South Pacific. The view north from Atoifi wharf to the passage of Kwai is like being in an unknown world.  Kwai is also said to be a venue of UFO sightings.

Kwai is home to a paradise for its more than 700 Gulu’ala speaking residents. Of the 120 households on the island, women and children make up the majority. Amidst the sea dependence of its populace, they can now survive on seafood and more.

Using the sandy soils with shell pieces that are in abundance on the island, the people of Kwai can now grow their own vegetables and fertilize its dead soils organically. In spite of the fact that there is no available source of income, the Kwai community can feed its members with nutritious food. In spite of there being no formal work, Kwai people are busy.

In spite of its isolation, there’s a connection. Where is the magic?

Inception of INHIM Community Care

Pastor Philip Manuao, founder and his wife Sarah Manuao said the four main objectives of ‘INHIM CC’ were: to work with community leaders in the promotion and implementation of healthy lifestyle/living in the communities; mobilize local communities and churches to care for and or develop specific community-based programs, to advocate and support services and programs which target the elimination of abuse and exploitation of orphans, children at risk and widows; and to offer pastoral care that prepares them for leadership and being resourceful in their families, church, and communities.

The founders have seen the importance of establishing the INHIM CC to offer holistic development approach for orphans, widows, and vulnerable children towards healthy living in a healthy community. In return, they’ve become viable human resources in the families, in the society, and to the nation. Pastor Manuao said they started on what is feasible on the island. All the people have to do is to identify their priority need and to grow and eat healthy organic vegetables and fruits.

For information and guidance, Pastor Manuao turned to the then Permanent Secretary, Mr. Edward Kingmele [CBE], of the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, and was introduced to MAL Senior Advisor, Dr. Ravindra C. Joshi (commonly known as Dr. Ravi Joshi). Their discussions resulted in ideas, which were developed without money, but with full community participation and cost sharing.

Organic Farming for the Whole Community

A workshop was conducted from 28th-30th May 2010 on Kwai Island.  The trainers were Dr. Ravi Joshi, Mrs. Magarina Dara, Promoter of organic “Sup-Sup” home gardening in Borderline, Honiara, and Pastor Philip Manuao, Coordinator, INHIM Community Care (CC). This workshop was attended by 102 participants, including orphans, widows, and children at risk, youth, women, and community leaders. 47 of the participants were women. The rest (55) were men.

They came from the seven communities in and around Gula’ala Zones. A field demonstration “hands-on experience-learn by doing” on easy composting was the main focus. Participants received a copy each of “Easy Composting” plastic laminated leaflet prior to preparing and making organic compost.

On the 4th week after the training, Ms. Dara was engaged by the INHIM CC for a follow-up visit. Her visit was to check/verify the quality of the ready-to-use compost, and teach and train the Gulu’ala zones the simple techniques such as sowing small-sized seeds in nursery beds/seed boxes, direct sowing of large-sized seeds, pricking and transplanting of seedlings, and demonstrating the application of organic compost in the sandy (dead) soil to make it fertile (healthy) so as to produce healthy plants and healthy foods organically.

The idea is to ensure the participants reached this level of practical experience and understanding so that they would be able to grow and manage their vegetables and fruit trees on the island without any supervision.

Proper segregation of waste was further improved during this method of planting such as sanitation (hygiene) on Kwai leading to the development of a healthy environment in local communities. Pastor Manuao said, “Now this project has helped young people to realize the importance of organic farming and not to live idle, and most importantly prepares them to handle future challenges as responsible Solomon Islands citizens.”

It was early in the evening and the evening sea breeze started to fill the Island. Everyone focused their attention on an 85 year-old man, Mr. Onesimas Ogua as he slowly told his story to the visiting team from MAL, Solomon Islands Government.

“I was born and raised here in Kwai Island. My mother is from Ngongosila Island.  When she got married to my father who is from Kwai, they moved together to Kwai.  Both of my parents were pagan. So I grew-up as a pagan child. I went to Su’u School.  I became a converted Christian when the gospel reached the shores of Malaita in the early days. I was a teacher by profession, teaching in different schools in the East Kwara’ae region.”

“During those early days, Kwai is a very big place,” he said as he turned around pointing to a stone behind him, half covered by the sea, “that is where the old school was situated but now you can see for yourself the sea has washed the sand and slowly continue to wash the island.

“Since I live here, I have seen, heard and remember very well many people representing government, and other institutes come here filling us with false promises.  They tell us we will do this and that, but nothing eventuated until today.  Not much change has happened on island.”

Pastor Manuao from the South Seas Evangelical Church (SSEC) said “my plan was to help vulnerable groups such as people living with disability, widow, and orphans in this island”. When all the islanders see the importance of the organic farming program and wanted to participate, it simply enhances my vision.

INHIM CC believes in the holistic approach:  It is balancing both physical and spiritual sides of the individual together.  Engaging youth, women through the INHIM CC help prepare young children to start working and not to wait until they are matured.

Dr. Joshi emphasized that if every child could plant one stalk of cabbage/one seed a day – that is part of their learning process they will get into a daily habit.  If every family member did so, then every family will have food and nutritionally secure for the whole year.

Mr. Adria Fiti, a 75 year-old man said the achievement in organic farming “motivates me to start my garden and expand it from small to big because I see and hear and not just talk, but act it out because I see it is beneficial for my health. I have lived here a long time but this has a great impact in my life because when I want to cook my meal, food is available right next to my house and my garden has different vegetables”.

Mr Fiti cannot stop expressing his excitement by sharing his story to anybody who walked past his colorful organic “Sup-Sup” home garden. In the past, I have been trying to plant, but plants are not healthy as what we have seen now,” said the excited old man. Vegetable and root crops are what we lack in the island because of distance and no land to make our gardens.

“We depend entirely only on fish and sea shells since our forefathers came and settled here decades ago,” said the old man as he swung his legs and told us his exciting story.  We listened and occasionally ate swamp taro.

Mr. Sam Kwairomi said, “What really convinced me is the sandy soil (dead soil) which we turned into the live soil (organic garden). I thought that the sand soil is just useless, not until I attended the workshop conducted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock with Dr. Ravi. Now I realized that we could make any dead soil into live soil by composting. Thus, compost is very important to grow healthy vegetables such as eggplants, beans, tomatoes, slippery cabbage, etc.”

“We are fishermen and women, but with the over-harvesting, our sea resources and the change of weather patterns now-a-days make it hard for us to catch fish and paddling to the mainland for gardening is another risk,” said Pastor Nicholas Sanga. When Dr. Ravi Joshi arrived in June 2010, he brought good news for the unbalanced diet, loneliness, and distance from the mainland.

Ms. Jeflyn Afukwao of Kwai proudly shared her story with a big smile.  “What we have learnt from Dr. Ravi has moved us from cannot to can.  It’s a life saving idea.  Now our diets have improved from the past.  Every day, the food on our plate has different colors from the organic “Sup-Sup” home gardens, and we are able to save money.”

Mr. Alick Solo, a youth from Kwai Island said since he started his garden, he does not go to the market and spend his money unnecessarily anymore.  Mr. Solo has a variety of vegetables and root crops in his garden. Solo told his story while standing in his sweet potato garden patch, as he dug and took out a big fruit (tuber) from the vine.

Ms Joylyn Afu has shared her exciting organic “Sup-Sup” home garden story.

“My motivation is to create an easy way for me as a mother to harvest vegetables and prepare healthy meals for my family. In the past we had vegetables from the mainland market only twice a week.  But when Dr. Ravi introduced this idea to us, it has changed our lives forever. When I am sad, I looked at my garden, and it gives me a sense of comfort through the plants’ colors.”

Her husband Mr. Thomas Afu also shared his story of this new approach as well.

“What motivates me is the new information and we see it as a good thing because it brings us good results for our life. We understand and see how important this idea is, so we are dedicated to expand this very unique idea to seed packaging, share this idea with other people who live on similar sandy islands, man-made islands (artificial islands), and atolls, so as to improve their health particularly healthy diets and expand our organic gardens for cash.”

“Now I am more than sixty years old, but I have not seen such a good thing like this happen on this island,” said Mr. Sadius Oge. We are fishermen who came and settled here long time ago to fish this water. We depend much on sea for our diet said this old man as his eyes brightened up with excitement.”

The newly introduced organic “Sup-Sup” home garden program in the sandy Kwai soils is a success story of an island that is vulnerable to global sea-level rise (king tides), food and nutrition security, and risks from other natural disasters. Mr. Erastus Tom a fisherman said, “This organic home garden project is for us and our children and grand children to come.  We are proud people now, this project made us feel happy. We made our compost from dead trees and used broken buckets to grow fruits, vegetables, and root crops,” said Tom.

“The information we get from Dr. Ravi helps us save our lives. We now realize that the food we ate was not good for our health and without the right information we cannot help ourselves because food is between life and death.  This project has increased our healthy diet and decreased our market spending.”

A youth Mr. Milton Maeli said that “before the workshop we did not have any idea at all about organic gardening. What has motivated us youth is the new information and the engagement in this INHIM CC project and it has changed our attitude. Youth engaged themselves in gardening and refrained from other peer pressures.  One of my favorite phrases from Dr. Ravi that is he and the late father of Organic Farming in the Solomon Islands, Mr. Joini Tutua coined is:  “Healthy Plants produces Healthy Foods, and Healthy Foods produces Healthy People and Healthy Communities”.

Ms Sherly Soai said, “We now know the right thing to do, and we are able to do it. This unique idea helps us to have healthy environment, increase our sustainable food production, reduce malnutrition and hunger during disaster.”

Mr. David Mafane said nothing will stop us from continuing with this good work.  “This engagement by islander covered food security, environment conservation, law and order.  This project gave Kwai a beautiful look as their community’s landscaping has been organized.  Now that they have been organized it means their sanitation improved with collection and proper segregation of waste plastic materials, glass bottles, and metal containers from other biodegradable materials.  Proper disposal of the non-biodegradable materials are some of their priority issues they have addressed within the cause of the INHIM CC Project.”

This model is important for other people living on atoll and sandy islands in the Pacific island nations. The spin off benefits from the project to surrounding communities such as Ngongosila and Ulubala was another impact for INHIM CC Project said Pastor James Sanga.

“The information we gained from Pastor Philip and Dr. Joshi wins our heart.  It was after I went to Kwai and saw this island was well organized and clean.  It convinced me to seek information from them to start my own organic “Sup-Sup” home garden. The development which has taken place at Kwai is visible and thus this project is a great help for us grass root people.”

“The project really surprised me when I saw plants grow healthily on the sandy island. When I saw the changes that have taken place in Kwai, I could not wait to start my own garden. I thought that we are more fortunate than Kwai Islanders, because we had large area to make our gardens.  Kwai Island is a model Gula’ala community.  I came back and started to plant and beautify my house with our flowers and vegetables.”

“My plan is to engage the whole community with these activities so that when it comes to church fundraising activities we can get free vegetable from our organic “Sup-Sup” home garden, as it is our security for food.”

Ulubala community has set-up a community work plan to look at community organic “Sup-Sup” home garden plans and other community activities such as fund-raising, and expanding the INHIM CC organic “Sup-Sup” home garden project.

Ms. Manunu said, “One of the benefits we get from this is cleanliness, now you cannot see any cabbage stalk or other rubbish lying all over this place, because it has very important use. We have learnt from Kwai Islanders, they have kept their village clean and organized.  People here in Ngongosila can do the same and that’s why we started planting beans beside our kitchen and houses.”

The organic “Sup-Sup” home garden is probably the answer to Solomon Islands’ growing number of Non-Communicable Diseases (lifestyle sickness). It is perhaps their only means of prevention strategy as improved diets mean balanced diets.

Dr. Joshi said the involvement of the whole community turns this programme to be successful.

“Until and unless there is full support and participation from a community there will be no development. My final message is that I want Kwai Island community to continue planting organically, eat fresh, healthy foods, and save seeds for the future. In short, I want Kwai Island to be a noodle and can food-free community,” he concluded.

Kwai Islanders are calling on the Solomon Islands Government, donor partners, international and national non-government organizations and non-state actors to save these sinking islands from climatic aberrations, such as king tides; for the sake of future generations.  It has shown us that they can now produce their own food organically.

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