Sowing seeds of hope

Thursday 4 March 2021 | Written by Caleb Fotheringham | Published in Economy, National

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Sowing seeds of hope
Junior Takairangi sowing seeds for the Ministry of Agriculture as part of the free seedlings programme. CALEB FOTHERINGHAM/21030358

Free seedlings are available to both commercial farmers and home gardeners at the Ministry of Agriculture, for food security and vision for new export revenues.

Local growers can once again take advantage of the free seedlings initiative which has been running since Monday, March 1.

Free seedlings were first made available in April last year. The latest initiative will run until June 30, 2021.

Secretary for the Agriculture Ministry, Temarama Anguna-Kaman said there are 12 seedling varieties available for commercial farmers.

Anguna-Kamana said the crops available are beans, bittermelon, capsicum, Chinese cabbage, cucumber, eggplant, lettuce, okra, snow peas, sweet corn, tomato and tsoi (choy) sum.

Each farmer can get three trays of three different crops.

For the home gardeners, five varieties of seedlings are available in smaller quantities. They are dwarf beans, Chinese cabbage, eggplant, okra and tsoi sum.

Three trays of three crops will also be made available to puna upon request, with the intention it will be used for food and security needs of the elderly and vulnerable population.

She said growing advice will also be given to both home gardeners and commercial farmers.

The Ministry will also give one and a half litres of plasma foliar fertiliser to each full and part-time commercial farmer. But the fertiliser will only be available once the farmer returns their empty seedling trays.

When the seedlings were first made available in April last year, Te Tango Enua growers’ association president Danny Mataroa said it was critical Cook Islands provided food security for its people in the Covid-19 pandemic.

Yesterday Mataroa welcomed the latest initiative. However, he said: “I hope this time they control the distribution. Last year when they gave out the seedlings to everyone, soon there was oversupply of two to three produce such as tomatoes and cucumber and couple months later, everyone ran out, no tomatoes or cucumber.”

“There needs to be a consistent supply of produce for a long time and that can only be achieved if the ministry distributes these seedlings in a control and consistent manner.”

Agriculture staff Junior Takairangi has been busy sowing seeds for the Ministry over the last few weeks for the initiative.

According to Takairangi cucumber, beans and corn are the easiest plants to grow in Rarotonga.

He said it only takes two to three days for those plants to germinate.

“Tomato and bok choy take about a week to pop up.”

It can take about eight weeks for tomatoes and bok choy to be ready for consumption.

For people starting with seeds, they “always need a potting mix to start with”. They need to move the plant into topsoil when it is ready for the garden, Takairangi said.

He said home gardening had become more popular due to the financial impacts of Covid-19.

The free seedling programme will not be available to full-time public sector employees.

The programme is part of the Pacific Regional Integrated Food and Security Initiative to Covid-19 (PRISCO19). The initiative includes the Cook Islands along with the other Pacific nations, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Papua New Guinea (PNG), Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

The purpose of this programme is to address food and nutrition security impacts in the Pacific as a result of Covid-19. It is also to protect the Pacific from Covid fueled food chain disruptions.

Pacific nations rely on food imports and are often food insecure, the programme is designed to mitigate the problem by assisting independent food production.

The value of the 12-month programme across all the countries is $2.5 million.