Grow­ing hope

An or­ganic gar­den­ing project finds fer­tile soil

Good - - THE BIG ISSUE -

Athun­der­ous boom fills the air and the ground shakes. Heart thud­ding, I make my way to­wards the crater’s rim. At the top, I look down at the cen­tral hol­low of the Ya­sur vol­cano, glow­ing a fierce red only a hun­dred me­tres away. Molten lava bub­bles and huge rocks are thrown high as clouds of ash and steam erupt with a mes­meris­ing roar.

Here, on the Van­u­at­uan is­land of Tanna, the ash from Ya­sur cov­ers ev­ery­thing in a layer of fine black dust. It coats my feet, grits be­tween my teeth, and makes my eyes feel dry.

At times the ash fall from Ya­sur ru­ins gar­dens and de­stroys food crops. Yet it can also be very fer­tile. Min­er­al­rich and wa­ter-re­tain­ing, it cre­ates a deep vol­canic loam al­low­ing for an as­ton­ish­ing amount of plant growth.

Tanna is a wav­ing sea of green, even dur­ing the dry sea­son. Jun­gle vines and creep­ers cover ev­ery patch of earth. Cas­sava plants grow wild among pa­paya trees heavy with fat­bot­tomed fruit. Cof­fee plants pop with bright red cof­fee cher­ries, and el­e­gant san­dal­wood trees reach up to the sky.

The Ya­sur vol­cano draws many tourists to the is­land to travel, as we did, on deeply rut­ted roads to be within me­tres of the crater’s rim.

My hus­band Ian and I are here on Tanna to visit the com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment scheme Nasi Tuan, run by a lo­cal NGO and largely funded by Tear Fund New Zealand. It’s the shared vi­sion of a Tear Fund vol­un­teer and a lo­cal pas­tor. Andrew Fin­lay, who vol­un­teered there with the NGO in 2009, was keen to set up an eco­log­i­cally sound de­vel­op­ment pro­gramme for the vil­lages he and wife Max­ine were work­ing in at the time. A lo­cal pas­tor, Wil­liam Lahva, had sim­i­lar dreams for his com­mu­nity and to­gether with in­put from other lo­cals, Nasi Tuan was born.

The best aid pro­grammes are borne of co­op­er­a­tion, with a goal of en­abling com­mu­ni­ties to thrive in a self-suf­fi­cient way, and from the start, Nasi Tuan has re­spected the is­lan­ders’ drive to pre­serve their indige­nous prac­tices (known as ‘Kas­tom’ in the cre­ole lan­guage of Bis­lama). Hope­fully Kas­tom prac­tices will help buf­fer the is­lan­ders from overly rapid de­vel­op­ment that has left other indige­nous cul­tures reel­ing.

Mean­while Nasi Tuan is chang­ing lives; hav­ing cre­ated a cof­fee co­op­er­a­tive and a bio-in­ten­sive gar­den, in­stalled rain­wa­ter tanks for fresh clean wa­ter just min­utes from the vil­lagers’ huts, and trained lo­cals to deliver first aid. Vil­lagers helped iden­tify the is­sues that are im­por­tant to them, and have learned the skills nec­es­sary to in­stall the tanks, build and run the or­ganic gar­dens and staff the health posts.

With rel­a­tively lit­tle fund­ing and high lev­els of par­tic­i­pa­tion from the com­mu­nity, Nasi Tuan has grown to in­clude many vil­lages in the area of Mid­dle Bush on Tanna is­land – which at 29,000 people is one of the more pop­u­lous of Van­u­atu’s 83 is­lands.

The pro­gramme’s ethos re­minds me of a quote from Lilla Wat­son, an indige­nous Aus­tralian ac­tivist and aca­demic: “If you have come here to help me, you are wast­ing our time. But if you have come be­cause your lib­er­a­tion is bound up with mine, then let us work to­gether.”

Jef­frey Lahva, Nasi Tuan’s field man­ager, is a Tanna na­tive ed­u­cated in New Cale­do­nia. Nick­named ‘The Pro­fes­sor’, Jef­frey speaks flu­ent French, English, Bis­lama and sev­eral lo­cal Tanna di­alects. He has a di­ploma in trop­i­cal agri­cul­ture, and is adamant about us­ing what the land has to of­fer rather than im­port­ing alien plants or prod­ucts. The en­tire is­land of Tanna, 40km long and 19km wide, is or­gan­i­cally farmed and Jef­frey’s home gar­den is a model sus­tain­able or­ganic plot, with 2000 square me­tres of cof­fee plants, pineap­ples, san­dal­wood trees and cas­sava.

At Nasi Tuan project sites, wa­ter tanks are well used and health posts are stocked with ba­sic medicines, in­clud­ing anti-malar­i­als. So­lar dri­ers, shiny new se­ca­teurs and prun­ing saws sit in the gar­den­ing area, while scrawny chick­ens scratch in their runs and pigs grunt from their sties. The vil­lagers’ sense of pride and own­er­ship is pal­pa­ble. They are clearly stake­hold­ers in this project, and are thrilled at the gains in crop yields. “The train­ing and tools pro­vided have helped me im­prove my cof­fee pro­duc­tion so much that I sold 1500 kilo­grams of cof­fee beans last year,” grins Ka­sou Kiang, 32 and from Ika­pahhu vil­lage.

Nasi Tuan also part­ners with GreenMinds, a faith-based NGO from the Philip­pines with an ex­ten­sive track record help­ing na­tive Filipinos

farm sus­tain­ably while im­prov­ing crop pro­duc­tion and cash in­come. Reynaldo Lombardo and his wife Rose are in full swing with a train­ing sem­i­nar, on grow­ing peanuts as a cash crop when we visit. Reynaldo’s ex­u­ber­ant teach­ing style uses much hu­mour and hands -on demon­stra­tions, and the vil­lagers sit­ting on grass mats in the meet­ing house lis­ten in­tently. There’s a fas­ci­nat­ing amount to know about peanut pro­duc­tion, pro­cess­ing and stor­age. Reynaldo even has a po­ten­tial name for the even­tual prod­uct – the Tanna Nut – which gets many laughs.

In his last visit here in 2011, Reynaldo taught vil­lagers how to make com­post in just 14 days us­ing a sim­ple bam­boo frame. He also ex­plained how to make or­ganic pes­ti­cides and mulches us­ing lo­cal plants, and how to process foods such as cas­sava and taro into prod­ucts that can be sold or stored.

Mother-of-four May Isa­iah has been ex­per­i­ment­ing with the cas­sava flour, cook­ing bis­cuits in a con­crete oven pow­ered by glow­ing-hot rocks. Con­trol­ling the tem­per­a­ture is a some­what hit-and-miss af­fair. “I like to make cas­sava cook­ies to sell in the monthly vil­lage mar­ket. People say they taste great!” she smiles.

Ka­sou leads us along a dirt path to see a metal, hand-pow­ered cof­fee grinder, sit­ting one me­tre tall in a lit­tle clear­ing among the cof­fee trees. Ka­sou drops in fresh red cof­fee cher­ries, adds wa­ter and turns the han­dle. The outer flesh of the fruit is stripped away, leav­ing be­hind green cof­fee beans to be dried. The drier the bean, the higher the price the farmer can get from the co-op. The high­est price seems to be 270 Vatu per kilo, or about NZ$3.40.

Be­cause the en­tire is­land of Tanna ad­heres to or­ganic prin­ci­ples, Tanna cof­fee has been cer­ti­fied as 100 per­cent or­ganic by the Van­u­atu Min­istry of Agri­cul­ture, and is cur­rently un­der as­sess­ment for or­ganic cer­ti­fi­ca­tion by Eco­cert. The cof­fee co-op is also con­sid­er­ing Fair­trade cer­ti­fi­ca­tion. The cof­fee it­self is smooth and nutty tast­ing, and rapidly gain­ing a rep­u­ta­tion as a de­li­cious and com­pletely or­ganic brew.

It is hoped that even­tu­ally the vil­lages in­volved in the Nasi Tuan project will be able to of­fer a thriv­ing model of or­ganic agro-tourism, where vis­i­tors can buy high-qual­ity snacks such as roasted peanuts, taro chips or cas­sava cook­ies on their way to visit the vol­cano. This will pro­vide jobs, in­crease cash in­come and im­prove re­silience for the com­mu­nity, while al­low­ing them to main­tain some tra­di­tional ways of life.

PRE­VI­OUS PAGE: Hi­mali at the Ya­sur vol­cano;

seedlings for the bio-in­ten­sive gar­den LEFT: field man­ager Jef­frey uses his new cof­fee- tree prun­ing se­ca­teurs; a woman and

child greet us at the wel­com­ing cer­e­mony

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.