The minister and landowner representatives officially opened the new crop bank on Friday last week.
“I am proud and happy that this is an initiative put together by the island government and the growers of Atiu as a result of many of these special traditional crops becoming scarce and unavailable,” said Brown.
“They are vital to the food security and nutrition of the island as I remember in the old days, (and were) popularly planted by many households.
“I am also glad that putting this project together through the initiative of the island people and our farmers means (it) will be owned and sustained by our community as we continue to teach the new generations.
“It also means that the ideas are born by the people of the island, because they know their own problems and needs. So it is right for my government to consider those plans at the will of the people and there should be no excuses (for not) preparing our next generation by teaching them the value of food security.”
Brown acknowledged the assistance of the Cook Islands Ridge to Reef Programme and the Ministry of Agriculture in setting up the crop bank. The ministry was working hard to allow those special varieties to be returned and propagated in the pa enua, ready to be shared to the community.
Brown said she was looking forward to having crop banks established on other islands and would be keeping a close hand on progress on Mitiaro, Mauke, Mangaia and Aitutaki.
Associate Agriculture minister Patrick Arioka said the crop bank would allow the mass production of crop varieties that were special to the people of the Pa Enua. As some of these varieties were difficult to find and replant, the crop bank concept would be the ideal approach, eventually allowing more planting material to be freely shared among all.
With climate change in mind, the crop bank would also be helpful in introducing new varieties of superior quality plants that were more resistant to pests and diseases, flooding and drought, salt inundation intrusion, extreme temperatures and heat waves, Arioka added.
“We are happy that these new planting materials will soon be available to be shared to all island crop banks.”
The crop bank had also been established to begin seeding selection for important varieties of coconut that now barely existed in the islands, Arioka said. A selection process would help regain suitable varieties to be kept for food security and livelihood resources in the pa enua.
“Our coconut varieties are at risk from being lost, especially varieties that have medicinal importance, and have traditional rope making and many other uses.
Eighty per cent of our coconut trees on some islands are over 40 years of age and are unproductive, and urgently needed to be replaced.”
Arioka said the crop bank facility is over one acre of land on Atiu would also be used for farmer training demonstrations. Students of Atiu College NCEA Horticulture classes would be able to use the facility for their practical studies under the supervision of the agriculture department, as it aimed to help increase new knowledge of planting and maintaining good crop varieties.
“The fifth purpose (of the crop bank) is to prepare the island for disaster seasons from cyclones or droughts, and the crop bank will be ready to support island communities that may be devastated by disasters.
“The crop bank planting materials will be immediately available to respond to islands impacted by disasters and will help them recover and return food source availability back to normal within a short period of time.”
Arioka said agriculture methods and ways of planting had changed from those of many years ago and the Cook Islands and its Pacific neighbours were now dealing with the problems caused by climate change.
“The purpose of building resilience through the crop bank facility is (so) the community and farmers can adapt to new planting methods in preparation for climatic changes, using better varieties.
“The ministry and its partners are working hard to make sure our people become more resilient in their agriculture programmes as we aim to achieve our food security, nutrition, resilience and livelihoods goals.”
Arioka congratulated the Atiu Agriculture Department for its rapid progress in setting up the crop bank with the support of the island government and the executive officer.
He said he looked forward to working with the remaining southern group islands of Mauke, Mitiaro, Aitutaki and Mangaia in establishing their crop banks.