Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community

Kinge Learns From The Master

Kinge Anjain from Maloelap atoll in the Marshall Islands knows by heart the textbook answers on the benefits of agriculture.

‘Gives us money and food,’ he quips.

As for getting his hands dirty with digging soil and planting things, he knew little until recently.

When the lagoon of your island home is 9,000 times bigger than the potential farming area, that spans only 9.8 square kilometres, the art of fishing takes precedence over farming for survival.

Sixteen-year-old Kinge survived on fish and coconuts. Vegetables were a rarity. Then he moved to Majuro Atoll and soon he was hooked to another essential skill – faming.

His uncle, Jabukja Aikne’s farm spread over two acres at Laura community is abundant with tropical vegetables, bananas, papaya, lemons, root crops, breadfruits and mangoes.

‘There was just so much food, so many colours!’ Kinge remembers thinking when seeing the farm for the first time from his home, tucked away in a corner of it.

Every afternoon, Kinge’s farming began in earnest. His uncle taught him the basics from watering the plants to digging a plot.

In the Marshall Islands where soil fertility is poor and very porous because of its sandy texture, special pit planting methods are important techniques for a farmer to know in order to have good yields.
A farmer must also know how to make a compost that they use to boost the organic content of their soil.

Mr Aikne refers to compost as soil medicine.

‘If we weren’t doing composts, a lot of the crops we plant won’t give us good yields because they struggle to survive. Farming is a challenge in the Marshall Islands,’ he said.

He scolds his nephew to add more grass clippings to the compost pile, admonishing him in Ebon (Marshallese language), a rapid sounding mumble that sets the teenager off to the other end of the farm. He returns with a wheelbarrow of grass clippings.

‘I told him to focus because we need to get the compost pile done today. We cannot do the brown layer today and then the green tomorrow,’ he said.

‘Kinge is my right hand man, he knows how to do a lot now and when I’m not around I trust the plants with him.’

Aikne is a member of Marshall Islands Organic Farmers Association (MIOFA) and local coordinator for the IFAD supported Capacity Building for Resilient Agriculture in the Pacific Project – IFAD CBRAPP. The project works especially with young farmers like Kinge to build resilience farms using organic practices like composting, mulching and inter-cropping.

It is a mentoring approach to organic farming where veteran organic farmers share their knowledge with younger farmers through group demonstrations or through the protégé system.

After the compost, uncle and nephew start planting some eggplant seeds. Eggplants thrive in the summer heat. It is only nine in the morning and everybody on that farm is drenched in sweat. Intense heat in the Marshall Islands can quickly evaporate freshly watered gardens. That and sometimes long periods of dry weather, the longest was nine months when the heavens were silent and the rains stayed away.

It calls for another resilience strategy called the IV drip bottle method. Kinge has learnt that too. A tiny hole is pricked into the lid of a PET water bottle. Only the mouth of the inverted bottle (with the lid on) is buried about 3 inch into the soil at a forty-five degree angle at the base of the plant. The bottle releases water slowly over time. A two litres bottle can take up to three days to empty. A gallon, longer. The method saves water and ensures plants are regularly watered.

‘It really saves a lot of crops when it’s very dry,’ Kinge said with a tinge of awe.

‘My uncle knows so much about farming. He knows more than my agriculture teacher,’ he smiles.

‘At school, I learn in books. Out here, my hands are dirty yet I am planting and all the secrets that makes his farm so healthy. I want my farm to be just like this.’

‘The best part is watching them grow from a seed to a plant.’

His tray of eggplant seedlings is ready for transplant. Kinge has been watching them for about three weeks now, every morning before going to school and in the afternoon when he dashes home to the garden, ready for another mentoring session.

IFAD-CBRAPP is implemented in partnership with focal points in Niue, Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands. MIOFA is a member of the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community – POETCom housed within the Land Resources Division of the Pacific Community.


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