Passionate about protecting all that’s dear - the land, sea and forests - has inspired the chiefs and people of Emae Island in Vanuatu to declare their homeland organic.
On 4 July, Emae islanders took an oath to protect their home and forbid the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides or foreign farm inputs on their island instead choosing organic farming methods for good soil health and rich natural flora and fauna.
Critical to the declaration is the commencement of organic certification using the Participatory Guarantee System promoted by the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) of the Pacific Community (SPC).
The PGS certification process will take between one to three years depending on the level of exposure to chemical risks on the farms.
It has been made possible with the support of the United Nations Development Programme’s SDG Fund, Farm Support Association (FSA), the Vanuatu Government and the International Fund for Agricultural Development through the Engaging Vanuatu Youth in Organic Farming – Farm to Table Chain Approach project.
Speaking on behalf of the people of Emae, Obed Timakata said, “It’s a unique platform that will unite our people to work together, to preserve our traditional farming knowledge and enhance its best practices through the generations to come.
“Critical to this, will be the restoration and enrichment of the biodiversity of our island ecosystem.
“In protecting our motherland it will in turn care for the health and welfare of its people.
“The social and economic spin-off benefits for our youth in organic farming with the PGS organic certification will be endless to say the least,” Mr Timakata said.
Vanuatu’s Ministry of Agriculture Director General, Howard Aru, in congratulating the people of Emae, said that the country is in the process of preparing a national organic policy.
“The people of Emae have shown leadership in embracing and recognising the very important role that organic farming plays in developing our agriculture sector into the future.
“The Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. Matai Seremaiah Nawalu, is keen to see this national organic policy completed as soon as possible to help advance the work of organic agriculture in the country and so we thank POETCom and SPC for driving this process.”
POETCom board Chairman, Moses Nambo Kalau, echoed Aru’s sentiments saying the Farm to Table project is commendable in supporting a policy drive for Vanuatu to be organic and it also caters to income generation needs for youth and vulnerable groups.
At its heart, the UNDP Farm to Table project will help address the problems of youth unemployment in the Pacific Islands region by connecting young people with income generating opportunities through organic farming.
POETCom’s Organic Systems Production Officer, Osea Rasea, who is coordinating the Farm to Table project, said Emae Island along with Efate and Tanna are the focus of an effort to train and set up organic certification systems with farming groups and connect with hundreds of farmers over the two-year term of the project.
“We are excited about the opportunities for income generation these farmers will benefit from with organic certification,” Rasea said.
“Without a doubt, doing farming the organic way protects their income source by ensuring healthy, productive soil for many years, and consumers are also given the option of choosing healthy, nutritious foods.
“We will engage over 1,000 coffee farmers, some root crop and vegetable farmers and other farmers involved with other agricultural products.”
Rasea said POETCom and FSA will work closely with the farming groups to set up their production plans, harvest schedules and monitoring plans as well as offer production training.
“It simply means we will work with them and show them how to grow and manage organic crops based on the Pacific Organic Standards and assist with knowledge on post-harvest handling and processing,” Rasea said.
“We hope by becoming involved in organic certification it will change the way they look at soil, not just as a piece of dirt to grow food but as something invaluable and indispensable and as we reach out to more farmers, we will begin to change the way we do farming in the Pacific as well as the food choices we make as consumers.”
Participatory Guarantee System: A peer review mechanism of organic certification that involves the whole community. It is a quality assurance system developed by the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM) that actively engages the community in carrying out peer reviews of harvesting processes to ensure organics principles are maintained.
Pacific Organic Standard: The Pacific Organic Standard is the bible of organic farming development for the Pacific that enshrines the values and principles of Ecology, Fairness, Culture and Traditions, Health and Care in farming. It describes the requirements for organic production.
POETCom: A network of organic stakeholders across the Pacific Islands region. Its secretariat is housed in the Pacific Community.