Paraquat is a toxic chemical that is widely used as an herbicide (plant killer), primarily for weed and grass control, but is banned in a number of countries around the world.
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) project nanager Stephen Hazelman addressed more than 20 growers at an International Fund for Agriculture Development funded workshop that ended last week and has been hailed a success.
He said this year in August there would be a Food Agriculture Organisation (FAO) meeting in the Cook Islands where a team would talk about alternatives to paraquat.
“We must understand that in the next two to three years, world organisations will ban such chemicals and farmers must start thinking about other methods to control weeds,” Hazelman said. He asked farmers what they would use as alternatives if the fertilisers and pesticides they used now were not available in the near future.
“When organic farming is to be encouraged here in the Cook Islands, farmers also need to learn the different pestilent diseases out here and there is a need to for all farmers to work together to reduce the use of paraquat and to work together,” Hazelman said.
“We need to be trained to recognise problem weeds and how to get rid of them through organic inputs. Some of these (organic weedkillers) are copper oxy-chloride-based and are now available in shops.”
Hazelman said organic controls would be vital in controlling weeds on Cook Islands agricultural land. There was also great need for growers and farmers to be committed and passionate when taking part in training workshops.
“Organic food is growing everywhere in the Pacific, because people are conscious about food safety and keeping healthy,” Hazelman said. “They are also aware of the dangers of chemicals. A trial project on organic farming was set up in various Rarotonga locations last week. Ministry of Agriculture extension officer Brian Tairea said last week’s programme, held in collaboration with the Titikaveka Growers Association (TGA) ,highlighted the importance of trials in working towards the Ministry’s objective of promoting the advantages of organic farming.
Tairea said Cook Islands trail would run for 18 months in conjunction with similar projects in the Marshall Islands and Niue.