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A festival of bananas in the Solomon Islands
In the Solomon Islands, traditional farming plus innovation ensures the security of the food supply…
LYING SOUTH-EAST OF GUADALCANAL at 10°36’S and 161°45’E between the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, and north-east across the Coral Sea from Queensland, Australia, the island of Makira forms one of the Solomons archipelago.
It is an island far from the well-travelled Pacific tourism routes, a place where cultural tradition is still strong and where the links between people and their food are short and direct. Much of what they eat, they catch or grow.
A diversity of tasty bananas… a staple food of the tropics…
Makira’s tropical maritime climate enables a diversity of tropical crops to be produced, including a crop that is a staple food in a number of tropical countries — bananas.
The Makira banana collection…
The Solomon Island development agency, the Kastom Garden Association (KGA) — Solomon Island Pijin for ‘customary gardening association’ — has for some time been involved in developing a collection of banana varieties on Makira.
The idea of the collection — think of it as a banana bank — is that Makira farmers can obtain traditional varieties new to them and can also contribute their own banana varieties to the collection so that others can benefit.
The collection’s purpose is to distribute varieties over a wider geographic area, ensuring they remain available as replacements after loss to cyclones or other events, and to broaden the nutritional availability of the plants.
According to the KGA’s Rouhana Moses, over 40 varities are maintained in the Makira banana collection.
A fruity festival of a tasty, nutritious crop…
Writing on the KGA’s website, Rouhana describes the recent Makira Banana Festival…
“Kastom Gaden Association (KGA) has successfully participated in showcasing more than 40 varieties of banana during the recent Makira Banana Festival in Makira Province”, he writes.
“The banana festival was part of the tourism promotion aimed at attracting visitors to Makira and to see the culture they have with this popular food crop, as it is part of their stable diet.
“In one of the recent private collections, a total 82 varieties of banana have been collected and planted. KGA, in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock, have collected more than 40 varieties of banana and labelled them in the local language.”
The KGA set up a successful stall at the Makira Banana Festival.
“Visitors to the KGA stall appreciated the effort made to collect these banana varieties”, said Rouhana.
“The message of the stall was to encourage people to grow more banana as it is one of the food crops that can withstand climate change and support food security. In addition, we let the people know that bananas in Makira have recorded high amounts of carotene content —(Toraka spp) — among the highest in the world — which support healthy growth, so it is better to eat more banana to grow healthy.”
Banana products on display at the KGA stall included banana chips produced in Makira and medicine derived from banana to cure various sickness and diseases.
There were talks throughout the three days of the festival on emerging issues such as climate change, food security and nutritional health.
As well as for food, bananas are grown for fibre that is used for a number of purposes. In the Solomons as elsewhere, a distinction is made between those banana varieties eaten raw and cooking bananas, known as ‘plantains’ in some places.
The place of origin — what’s known as the ‘centre of diversity’ — of bananas is placed in Papua New Guinea (PNG) where the fruit has been cultivated in some places from something like 8000 years. PNG is considered to be one of the birthplaces of agriculture.
It is likely that a second centre of banana diversity developed in South East Asia at a later time.
The banana — one of humankind’s most useful of crops…
The author worked with the Australian NGO, APACE (Appropriate Technology for Community and Environment) as project manager and development educator: • on food security projects in the Solomon Islands • with a metals recycling/small business development project in Papua New Guinea.
Later, he joined with others to set up the consultancy, TerraCircle Inc, to continue the work started by APACE in the Solomons and elsewhere in the South West Pacific. TerraCircle continues to have a positive and ongoing association with Kastom Garden Association.
Three TerraCircle consultants will feature in a new book documenting people responsible for developing the permaculture design system.
Adult education specialist and TerraCircle associate, Caroline Smith, has been working with Kerry Dawborn to edit the substantial volume of capsule autobiographies. The book is to be published by Holmgren Design Services, the consultancy started by one of the initiators of the permaculture design system.
The book will be launched later this year in different Australian cities, including two locations in Sydney.
A design syatem for sustainable living
Permaculture is a design system for sustainable living. Developed by Tasmanian academic and polymath, Dr Bill Mollison and landscape designer, David Holmgren in the late 1970s, it is broad in application and includes food systems, water and energy efficient building design, community development and much more.
Permaculture has been described as applied systems thinking and counts a great many influences, including the systems ecology work of Howard Odum, Fritz Schumacher’s writings on appropriate technology Schumacher’s (Intermediate Technology Development Group, which has developed technologies for application in developing countries) and Robert de Hart’s forest food gardens ideas.
In the 1990s the design system made a move into international development, with permaculture-trained practitioners involved in projects in Nepal, Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Vietnam, Cambodia, South America and in providing training in urban agriculture in Havana, Cuba. Permaculture-trained people, then working with APACE (Appropriate Technology for Community and Environment) started their work, now continued through TerraCircle Inc, in the Solomon Islands.
Permaculture has met with enthusiastic acceptance in civil society and now, thanks in part to the nationally accredited certificate and diploma level vocational training in the design system, permaculture is starting to infiltrate professional and even local government areas as its reputation for credibility and utility increases.
Permaculture Pioneers a timely work
Stuart Hill provided inspiration for the Permaculture Pioneers
The initial inspiration for the book came from University of Western Sydney academic and developer of the University’s Social Ecology course, Dr Stuart Hill. His interest was in the motivational and psychological drivers of those who initially developed the design system.
Entitled Permaculture Pioneers, the book will contribute to an outstanding need-documenting the history of the permaculture design system, especially over its first two decades.
Since their days at APACE, TerraCircle consultants have been involved in food and livelihood projects in the Solomon Islands and PNG that are fully compliant with permaculture design principles although the projects, frequently AusAID funded, were not branded permaculture. In permaculture, it is the use of the principles rather than branding which makes them authentic permaculture.
Those appearing in Permaculture Pioneers:
all have qualifications in permaculture and considerable experience in designing, implementing and managing permaculture projects.
TerraCircle works with Coffs Harbour residents on the development of a community garden
If the broad goals of international development are similar across all nations, and with the knowledge that the participatory, people-centred approach it takes in working with communities is applicable in developed as well as developing countries, then it’s only natural that TerraCircle has become involved in community development in Australia just as it has in the Solomon Islands.
Believing that a good place to start developing practical, achievable and desirable solutions to sustainable living is where you live-as well as believing that by sharing our skills and resources we can help others achieve sufficiency in their basic and higher-level needs (a ‘distribution of surplus’, ‘fairshare’ principle), the volume of Australia-based work engaging TerraCircle consultants has steadily increased in recent times.
Projects undertaken by TerraCircle in Australia include:
writing the Living Smart manual for the Living Smart course offered by local government
development of a policy on community food gardening for Randwick City Council
production of policy directions on community gardening for Marrickville Council
community garden consultation for Coffs Harbour City Council, meeting with the Coffs Coast Local Food Alliance and a participatory site planning workshop for a new community garden
a public workshop on a permaculture design for Waverley Council
workshop at Charles Kernan Reserve Food Garden for the City of Sydney
community engagement crew for the Live Green House exhibition for the City of Sydney
participatory development of a governance and site management plan with the Denison Street Community Garden crew and Marrickville Council staff, in collaboration with the Australian City Farms & Community Gardens Network (communitygarden.org.au)
planning consultation for the James Street Reserve Community Garden team on behalf of the City of Sydney
authoring of a column for the Reduceyourfootprint blog for the three Eastern Suburbs council project
compost-making workshop for Ku-ring-gai Council.
TerraCircle acts on the dictum of Bill Mollison and David Holmgren (developers of the permaculture design system in which a number of TerraCircle people are qualified as practitioners) to work where it counts and to work with those who want to learn.
To enact this, TerraCircle takes a collaborative approach to its work in Australia, cooperating with community organisations and local government to help them develop solutions that meet the needs of both, that improves neighbourhood environments, increase local opportunity and contributes to liveable, sustainable cities.