Good and plentiful supplies of seeds are crucial to building local food production in the Cook Islands.
Boosting local food production and substituting the NZD 40 m food import bill remains the goal of trainings in seed production. The Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community carried out the ‘Organic Open Pollinated Seeds Production; Organic Value Chain Analysis and Governance’ training in the capital Rarotonga in August.
Acting POETCom Coordinator Stephen Hazelman and the Pacific Community’s Plant Health Technician Mani Mua facilitated the training.
The International Fund for Agricultural Development Capacity Building for Resilient Agriculture in the Pacific Project (IFAD-CBRAPP), Cook Island’s Agriculture ministry and farmer’s organisation Natura Kuki Airani(NKA) supported the training.
‘Open pollinated seeds are important because they are the pure versions and can be produced locally providing an affordable alternative for farmers that currently buy hybrid seeds for about NZD 40 for only two grams worth,’ Mani Mua said.
‘Contrast that with NZD 64 cents for 25 grams in Fiji.’
‘With costs that high, food production is expensive and agriculture is labelled by locals as the dead market because few youths participate in it.’
Minister for Agriculture, Health and Justice Vainetutai Rose Toki-Brown said local food production would help Cook Islanders tackle non-communicable diseases.
‘This is draining a huge portion of our health sector budget,’ Toki-Brown said.
‘So many of our people have come to depend so much on processed foods which are high in salt, sugar and fat.
‘We have spent too much time talking on this issue but still not seeing any significant positive impacts towards improving our diets and nutrition.’
Open pollinated seeds are also the prescribed seed variety according to the Pacific Organic Standard because it is in its pure, untainted natural form.
There are 10 registered organic farmers, certified using a Participatory Guarantee System.
‘To aid the growth of organic agriculture and the sustainable development of soil resources, farmers will need assistance in accessing open pollinated seeds to meet certification standards,’ said Stephen Hazelman.
‘Local breeding of open pollinated seeds is the sustainable solution and one that NKA is tasked to promote as a component of IFAD-CBRAPP.’
‘Soil is our most important resource. For far too long we have killed out soils but taking care of the Chemistry through the addition of NPK fertilisers and completely ignoring the Soil Physics (water holding capacity) and most importantly the Soil Biology.
‘This is being addressed with compost production in Cook Islands and the OP seeds will enhance efforts further.’
Breeding OP seeds also have a marketing benefit in terms of crop quality.
‘The quality of the fruit or vegetable remains true to type and maintained throughout,’ said Mua.
‘With imported hybrid seeds, the first crop maybe fine but fruits from saving the seeds of the crop produce a different quality, shape of fruit and even sizes, it’s no longer true first crop.’
During the week farmer learned about the differences between OP and hybrid seeds, diseases that can affect it, how not to get it contaminated with other varieties or pathogens.