Banaban Agriculture today Rabi Island

 

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Ken Sigrah with one of the few commercial crops grown b y the Banabans - Kava

This following very informative article was written by fellow Society member - Carolyn Wright and appeared as the 'FeatureStory' in our latest edition - Issue No. 22 of the 'Banaba/Ocean Island News'. Carolyn spent 3 weeks on Rabi Island over the recent Christmas School holidays when she went to the island at the Society's request to look at ways in which Agriculture projects could be developed to assist the Community in becoming more self sufficient.  Carolyn teaches Agriculture and Animal Husbandry in Australian Regional High Schools.

 

A VIEW OF AGRICULTURE ON RABI TODAY

by Carolyn Wright

Rabi is a small island is situated off the north-east coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island in the Fiji group. The island is near 17° latitude and sits on the International Date Line at 180° . The island consists of approximately 17,000 rich volcanic acres and rises to a height of 1,550 feet above sea level.

The island is covered with natural vegetation and an abundance of coconut trees. Prior to the Banabans settlement on Rabi in 1945 the island was used as a copra plantation by the famous Lever Brothers group of companies. With mainly steep hillsides there is not a lot of flat land suitable for large scale conventional agriculture (such as sugar cane). Villages are located close to the coast so gardens there must tolerate salty air and in low areas, sandy soil.

Copra plantations had been originally established on the lower slopes, and some land was cleared for this purpose. Copra is the dried white flesh from the coconut.

CLIMATE

I have no records for Rabi Island but present these from other areas of Fiji.

 

Rainfall Temperature Chart
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Seaqaqoi
Rainfall 416 524 497 350 84 86 54 77 133 194 289 392 Total=2096mm
Savu Savu
Rainfall 304 266 271 308 175 118 119 106 140 159 233 220 Total=2419mm
Temperature
Mean max. 30 30 30 29 28 27 26 26 27 28 28 29
Mean min. 24 24 24 23 23 22 21 21 22 22 23 23

 

PRESENT USES

 

PLANTS

A range of fruit and vegetables is grown for local use. I have listed the ones I saw in December. There are sure to be some I missed.

FRUIT 

  • Avocadoes

  • Bananas

  • Breadfruit Artocarpus altilis

  • Coconuts

  • Guavas

  • Lemons

  • Mango

  • Pawpaws

  • Soursop Annona muricata

VEGETABLES
  • Amaranth Amaranthus viridis

  • Bele Abelmoschus manihot

  • Cassava Manihot esculenta

  • Chilli

  • Dalo

  • Eggplant Solanum melongena

  • Long beans Vigna sequipedalis

  • New Guinea ‘bean’ Trichosanthes cucumerina

  • Tomato Lycopersicon esculentum

  • A new variety of dwarf coconuts is being tried at present. These have the advantage of maturing earlier.

COMMERCIAL CROP

I saw several plantations of each of these, up to several hectares in size. The major problem is weeds in such a high rainfall. 

  • Cocoa

  • Vanilla

  • Kava Piper methysticum

ANIMALS

Small numbers of these were seen for local use. 

  • Hens. (free range which means eggs are often hard to find, and can be stolen by dogs and mongooses.)

  • Ducks. (just a few)

  • Goats (tethered)

  • Cattle (tethered)

  • Pigs (tethered, Penned or individually housed)

RECOMMENDATIONS

There are two desirable objectives that I see. Firstly Rabi Island has the resources to be self-sufficient in providing the fruit, vegetables, meat, milk and honey for its population. Buying any of these from elsewhere must prove expensive when living on an island because of transport and handling costs. The second objective would be the development of more commercial produce for export off the island. Outside factors, particularly price , will limit choices here.

WEEDS

Because Rabi Island is such a pristine environment I would be very hesitant to use herbicides. Maybe glyphoshate (Roundup , Zero) at the most, as it is supposed to break down on contact with the soil, and not leave any residues.

Possible alternatives are: 

1.   Use of heavy mulches which also prevent erosion, and break down to enrich the soil. In Australia, layers of newspapers are often placed under the mulch , keeping weeds out for a number of months. 

2.   Large sheets of plastic do the same job and will heat the soil underneath so that weed seeds are killed. The plastic can then be moved (after 4 weeks or so) to another area. 

3.  Use of pigs which will uproot the area and fertilize it at the same time. Tethers or portable pens could be used. Obviously pigs would need water to be supplied, and additional food. (We use hens in a portable enclosed pen to do the same thing in gardens). 

4.  Flame throwers.(Not when there is danger of starting a bushfire) A number of portable devices are available (including gas powered). Weeds do not need to be blackened - just heated enough to make them go limp. (The heat causes the water in the plant cells to boil and they burst) 

5.  Brush cutters - which also require fuel.

PLANTS

There are many which should be grown for local use. These should be tried in a number of locations to establish where they would grow best, and so the maximum number of people could watch their progress. The best place to start would be to see what is doing well on the other islands. Unfortunately I did not have time to see any other parts of Fiji. Visits to markets would be useful and the Department of Agriculture would be able to supply technical information. Rabi Island is fortunate to have a Department of Agriculture station on the island and a variety of crops is being trialed. Some excellent private gardens are also grown by teachers stationed at the High School. Here is a list of plants I did not see which should be able to be grown for local use.

(I realise that many of these are probably grown but I missed seeing them . Forgive me.)

FRUIT
  • Pineapples

  • Passionfruit

  • Mandarins

  • Oranges

  • Limes

  • Tamarillo

  • Mulberry

  • Feijoa

  • Mangosteen

  • Jackfruit Artocarpus heterophyllus

  • Capsicum

  • Sapote Calocarpum mammosum Monstera deliciosa

  • Star apple Chrysophyllum cainito

  • Durian

  • Carombola

  • Litchi Litchi chinensis

  • Akee Blighia sapida

  • Tamarind

  • Macadamia nuts

  • Cashews

  • Pacific lychee Pometia pinnata

  • Tahitian chestnut Inocarpus fagifer

  • Malay apple Syzygium malaccense

  • Polynesian vi-apple Spondias dulcis

  • Lolo Ficus vitiensis

  • Vutu Barringtonia edulis

  • Indian almond (seeds) Terminalia catappa

VEGETABLES
  • Okra

  • Sunflowers

  • Sorghum (for poultry)

  • Pigeon peas Cajanus cajun

  • Pepper

  • all types of herbs, and Asian vegetables

  • Yams Dioscorea alata

  • Sweet potatoes

  • Sweet corn

  • Melons

  • Peanuts (in winter)

  • Sukau Gnetum gnemon

  • Fiji asparagus Saccharum edule

  • Tumeric

 

ANIMALS

 

PIGS

The healthiest pigs seen had their diets supplemented by fish. Unfortunately this was tinned. I believe more use could be made of pigs own foraging ability by moving them every day, to a fresh area. They could be tethered or portable pens used. Pigs can be controlled with electric fencing at 30 cm above the ground. Solar electric fencing units are available. Of course water containers would need to be moved as well.

GOATS

I expected to see more as they are so easy to care for and I enjoy their meat (chevon). The ones I saw were certainly healthy. If anyone was interested in improving either their meat or milk production, stock could be improved by the introduction of a buck from a desired breed. In Australia, Boer goats have been recently introduced to improve meat production.

CATTLE

Pasture is in plentiful supply. I recognised many tropical pasture species including setaria, siratro, demodium and leuceuna. Fencing would have to be done to prevent cattle destroying gardens. I suggest buying dairy females which can then be mated to a beef bull and their calves can be used for meat after the first year.

The fastest method to achieve this would be to buy pregnant cows. The cheapest method would be to buy dairy heifer calves immediately and tether them. Some paddocks could be fenced in the second year . The heifers could be mated at the end of their second year thus producing calves and milk in their third year. Australian Milking Zebu or Australian Friesian Sahiwals would be suitable breeds but it would depend on what is available nearby. In the third year a set of yards could be started to work with the growing calves when they are weaned.

FINALLY

Rabi Island has great potential. Variety should be wide so people can see what grows best and to provide a varied diet. I commend the work being done by Bouka, the Youth Program Officer and his team. They already have demonstration gardens in the villages and have tools and brushcutters available for hire. I thank him for his assistance to me

 

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