Extension work crucial – research findings in Fiji and Cook Islands

Factors such as the limited number of extension officers, poor access to information, and a lack of understanding about the dynamics of farming audiences, can be a hindrance to the growth of the organic sector, says a researcher from the University of Sunshine Coast, based on her studies in Fiji and Cook Islands.

For her postgraduate research into organic agriculture pathways, Rebecca Cotton focused on the work being undertaken by two extension officers: Brian Tairea of the Ministry of Agriculture in the Cook Islands, and the Pacific Community’s Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) Coordinator, Stephen Hazelman.

She found that while in general the people she met – from farmers to government officials and even tourists – care about the environment and are keen to protect it as well as the health of their kids, they don’t have adequate access to information to assist them with issues such as pest management.

‘What are they going to do if they have a grasshopper that keeps coming back? … If they don’t have the options of the different organic methods to control it they will keep reverting to conventional (chemical) pesticides’, Ms Cotton said.

She offered social media as one solution for sharing the ‘how to’ of organic agriculture, but acknowledges this can’t be the only approach, given some people’s limited access to the internet.

‘Somewhere like Fiji where a lot of people use the internet, social media can play an important part in education; whereas in the Cook Islands … it’s not going to reach as many people, so you have to think of other avenues’, Ms Cotton said.

That other avenue, according to Ms Cotton, is regular field trips and demonstrations to farmers.

‘They want hands-on. They want trial and error. They are not going to believe you if you tell them. They want to see it or they want to do it themselves’, Ms Cotton explained.

‘You either need to have field days where everyone comes together and works together to test out an organic method or a different mechanism, or you need to give out samples and say “here, I want you to try this for three months and tell us exactly what’s going on”’, she said.

Ms Cotton observed that valuable knowledge on organic farming perfected over decades is being lost with the passage of time as farmers age and there are no successors taking over the reins. This, Ms Cotton said, underscores the need to involve children from a young age in the retention of farming information.

She also noted the importance of incorporating tradition and culture into extension work.

‘Cooks has such an oral culture. They prefer to talk about things then write it down, which is fine, but you lose a lot of things over the years and in translation.’

Ms Cotton hopes by publishing her research and sharing it widely through journal articles, it will bring attention to the need for more research that can influence policy development that supports organic agriculture development.

 

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