He is known as the ‘Doc’ ‒ the man the people of Marshall Islands go to when their livestock are sick. He is Jabukja Aikne, a popular animal health specialist and Coordinator for the Marshall Islands Organic Farmers Association (MIOFA).
Although he’s mostly dealt with livestock, Mr Aikne is also passionate about organic farming, which he learned from his father.
‘I learned a lot from him, and inherited his passion for it, so much sometimes I’m farming late into the night’, he said.
Jabukja burst out laughing mid-interview, recalling a colourful scene of an angry, screaming Marshallese woman chasing him out of a pig pen as he tried to artificially inseminate a sow for breeding. It was a church minister’s home.
‘The minister hadn’t told his wife what I was there to do’, he roared, his merry laugh ringing through the meeting room where the POETCom team and the IFAD Capacity Building for Resilient Agriculture project recipient countries ‒ Niue, Marshall Islands and Cook Islands ‒ recently met for a planning session in Fiji.
His engaging personality and practical and extensive knowledge of livestock have earned him the respect of farmers in the outer islands as well as the position of Chief Livestock Officer for the Ministry of Resources and Development which he held for several years.
Building good communication skills and sharing ideas and information is imperative in agricultural extension work.
According to Mr Aikne, it’s only through passing on ideas, advice and information that the extension agent can hope to influence the mindset of the farmer.
‘They listen to you when you show them how it’s done. We spent months in the outer islands working with them. Just telling them isn’t enough … It’s the approach we are taking in promoting soil health ‒ especially showing them how to make compost, because they learn better that way’, Mr Aikne said.
Encouraging farmers in Marshall Islands to choose organic farming has become a crusade for Jabukja, who is alarmed by a soil survey that revealed alarmingly low levels of micro- and macro-nutrients in their atoll soil.
Marshall Islands consists of 33 coral atolls and good farming land is scarce.
‘Our land area is already small and of poor quality, so we need all the help that we can get to grow things’, Mr Aikne said.
‘I’ve always believed that organics is the solution that we need, which is increasingly harder because we are dealing with the additional problem of climate change.’
‘We are concerned about the food and nutritional security of the people. Meals are based on heavily processed, imported ingredients … because not enough is being planted locally’, Mr Aikne added.
As farmers deal with the more complex problems of climate change, such as saltwater encroachment, pest intensification, weather variables, and shifting planting seasons, they desire solutions, or farming tips that will help.
‘I can see the farmers’ faces light up as they finally understand things like compost and the way they can adapt to drought,’ Mr Aikne said.
‘It’s why I really like doing what I do because I know that MIOFA can make a real difference in the lives of Marshallese farmers, and especially with the health of people through improving their food choices by making organic vegetables and root crops readily available’, he added.
It is clear from his words and demeanor that Mr Aikne is very committed to his work.
‘Sometimes when there are no boat links to Majuro, I’m out in the islands with farmers for months at a time and I enjoy it so much.’
Mr Aikne’s Coordinator position at MIOFA is supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development through the Capacity Building for Resilient Agriculture in the Pacific project.