I started my career as an entomologist with the Commonwealth Agriculture Bureau’s International Institute of Biological Control in India. All through my scientific life I have preferred biological control or natural methods in managing plant pests and integrated pest management.
I worked for many years with rice, this being the staple food of more than half of the world’s population. From the International Rice Research Institute, based in the Philippines, I moved on to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, Nigeria, where root crops are the main staples. As a witness to the availability of food supply, nutrition, poverty, population issues from Asia and Africa, I was also disheartened in seeing the malnourished Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge regime. My belief in practicing judicious use of chemicals in controlling pests is to protect the food people eat, making it retain its natural composition and to do less harm to the environment.
A few years ago, I joined the World Vegetable Centre in the Solomon Islands as the site coordinator and later, became the senior adviser (agriculture development) with the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock. This involved me with food and nutritional security. I came to realise that Solomon Islanders and as a matter of fact most small islands countries and territories across the Pacific with their many outer islands, are confronted more by nutritional insecurity than by food insecurity. This ignited my passion for the study and practice of human food and nutrition.
In the Solomon Islands, I developed the blueprint for the first ever national agriculture and livestock policy, and also subsidiary policy documents of which the Solomon Islands government policy on organic agriculture systems and the national rice sector policy (2010-2015) are the first policy documents in the Pacific islands region. In addition, I teamed up with the government’s Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, and the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, to draft the national food security, food safety and nutrition policy (2010-2015).
The main sector and the sub-sector policies to address food and nutritional security developed in Solomon Islands were all approved by the Solomon Islands government and parliament.
The blueprint to address food and nutrition security in small outer islands across Pacific island countries and territories that face the consequences of climate change, family food and nutrition insecurity and loss of biodiversity, was developed from the Kwai Island organic farming model for family food and nutrition security, together with Pastor Philip Manuao. Kwai Island is a tiny dot off the east coastline of Malaita, one of the Solomon Islands. The people of Kwai generally live on seafoods and root crops. This model is now widely known around the Pacific: see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cgXnzfDcbk. It was costly for islanders to procure vegetables and fruits from the mainland. Their sandy soils hinder the crop growth. We introduced ‘Sup-Sup’ home organic gardening. This facilitates proper waste segregation and island sanitation as well as successful local organic production of fruits and vegetables of various colours. It is a simple approach that has allowed Kwai Islanders access to ‘rainbow-coloured’ nutritious diverse organically grown foods.
This small change has impacted greatly on the lives of the Kwai Islanders and has become a success story for other small outer islands across the Pacific. We aim to be able to disseminate this information and reproduce the system in other Solomon islands and in nearby Pacific countries.
Addressing issues of food and nutrition security is not just the concern of government. It is the responsibility of every citizen, and all sorts of relevant organisations, all of whom need to join hands and work together. Thus I have been able to convince the Solomon Islands postal corporation to issue postage stamps on important vegetables such as tomato, pumpkin, string beans, eggplants and indigenous vegetables. Similarly, I have influenced local women’s groups throughout the country to submit local recipes to promote healthy ways of life nationwide in a small booklet on Local Vegetable Food ‘Kaikai’ Recipes in the Solomon Islands produced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock together with the Ministry of Health and Medical Services, and the communities in rural and urban areas of the islands. This was supported by the World Health Organization.
To enhance and sustain food and nutrition security at family level, we have to educate everybody including young and disadvantaged members of the community in the importance of proper food and healthy nutrition. We need to give them the skills and confidence to produce their own foods organically and locally. As a Kwai Island fisherman, Eratus Tom, has said, ‘Without the right information, we could not help ourselves….food is the difference between life and death’.