He is in Rarotonga this week to help facilitate a programme teaching local farmers to save non-hybrid (or open-pollinated) seed. “He says the focus of the programme is to train local farmers along with the local Ministry of Agriculture to collect their own non hybrid seeds for resowing.
Mua is driven by a passion for research and the desire to protect the numbers and health of non-hybrid plants.
“We have a big problem worldwide but especially here in Rarotonga,” Mua says.
“A lot of our food is imported, much of the local export market is declining or dying and most of the local seeds are now hybrid, so we are losing our unique local varieties. These open-pollinated varieties are the local unique traditional plants that have been bred here.”
Hybrid seeds brought into the country are expensive, and the seeds gathered from these plants lose their quality and do not produce equal lines of plants of good quality, Mua says. They become unpredictable and can lose their flavour.
On the other hand, open pollinated seeds remain the same every year and produce higher quality fruits and vegetables. So the seeds are cheaper and the plants are cheaper to reproduce.
He says the benefits are high quality, juicier, tastier fruit and vegetables for the local and tourist market.
“When these foods are also farmed locally and organically we are looking at pesticide residue-free food and soils. That is healthier for the people and the environment.”
“Currently the island is not making full use of the potential to grow enough of their own food.
“(People) are spending too much on importing food; the food is expensive and from a tourist point of view it is no different to what they get at home. Potting mix, trays and tools are also coming over from New Zealand and Australia. We need to be using local materials, they are cheaper and better.”
He says while locals are still growing their small home plots and producing enough to sell at the markets, the supermarkets are full of imported fruits and vegetables which have lost their freshness. There is a huge visitor market to satisfy. Tourists, especially, come with the expectation of buying fresh local produce that they can’t get at home.
Ecologically, the benefits of home-grown organic and open pollinated varieties are huge. They include less shipping costs, healthier soils, healthier people, more local profits and more local employment, Mua says.
“It is the way forward.”
In association with the organic group Matura Kuki Airani and the Ministry of Agriculture the programme has been funded by International Fund for Agricultural Development (JLIFAD) under the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETcom). Environmental gain is the mission of the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community, says coordinator Stephen Hazelman. The workshop is part of a project called, “Capacity Building for Resilient Agriculture in the Pacific” and is also being implemented in Niue and the Marshall Islands.
Mua says the project will finish in March next year.
Opening the four-day programme, Agriculture minister Rose Toki Brown said she believed that in the next few years, Rarotonga would start to see more processed organic products on the local market and she was adamant that more farmers will take up organic farming, especially as the market for organic produce, and products with both the local and visitor population, continues to grow.
Brown urged the Ministry of Agriculture to continue working closely with the local Natura Kuki Airani association of organic farmers.