THE SOLOMONS - SEEDS OF PEACE
The third national Planting Material Network (PMN) and the first Melanesian Farmer's Seed Saving Conference was held in a secondary school on Choiseul Bat at the most north-westerly point of the Solomon Islands.
This long-held dream of the Seed Savers Network to showcase the highly-successful PMN to people from other Melanesian countries came true after two years of planning. Seed Savers sourced funding from AusAID and an overseas foundation for some of the overseas participants.
- a total of 120 subsistence farmers, representing a dozen language groups, from every province of the Solomon Islands
- eight participants from Bougainville
- a participant from East Timor.
There was no sense of tension or unease between the Solomon Islanders. Rather, there was a wonderful sense of comradeship, mutual respect and order.
Presentations diverse and informative
Presentations and workshops were designed to increase participant skills and to provide information about new activities. They included:
- traditional Temotu agriculture - a tree-based agricultural system (Temotu is a remote province in the far south-east of the Solomons)
- food security on Bougainville
- organic certification in Vanuatu
- seed saving
- honey bee keeping
- growing taro
- keeping chickens
- cooking with seaweed
- basic video production.
Almost all food local
With the exception of a small amount of Australian rice, all food at the conference was locally grown or sourced, putting on display the food diversity potential of rural villages.
Local foods included: fish; shellfish; mud crab; wild greens; root vegetables; cooked pawpaw (papaya); eggplant; snake bean; fruit.
Spread on banana leaves at meal times, this array presented a diverse and delicious offering.
Visit to the taro collection
We visited by logging truck the collection of 100 taro varieties that Seed Savers had redirected funds to last year. These had been maintained in healthy condition by a local farmer.
Luigi Guarino, a scientist with the Pacific Agriculture Plant Genetics Resources Network in Fiji, was impressed with the varietal diversity, labelling and high standard of the collection.
Night of festivities
At the last night festivities, group after group sang and danced.
East Timorese delegate, Ego Lemos, lead singer in a popular Timorese band, played and sang in Tetum.
By overloaded canoe to the seed centre
After the conference a number of us visited the regional seed centre at a well-run rural training establishment on the island of Kolombangara.
The 200km journey was made in an overloaded (with 11 passengers) four-metre long motor canoe. The calm conditions distracted us from our precarious situation.
In the middle of the glassy sea, some 30km from land in either direction, we encountered an enormous humpback whale and her two offspring.
The Kolombangara seed centre is in a perfect location to promote seed production and conservation to its hundreds of students.
Outcomes constructive and promising
Discussion at the conference resulted in possibilities:
- another Melanesian conference in three years
- the start of seed saving in the countries of a number of participants
- Luigi Guarino to promote, through his international network, farmer-managed collections of planting material such as taro, banana and yam
- the continued devolution of the Solomon Islands Planting Material Network into local seed networks run by farmers (as per the Australian Seed Savers' Network model) rather than regional centres with paid NGO staff.
Back in Honiara, the capital, we did interviews on national radio and gave talks at the University of the South Pacific.
Seed Savers' Network director, Jude Faton, gave workshops to staff and students the Solomon Island Planting Material Network centre at Burns Creek.