The Recognized Seasonal Employers (RSE) Scheme workers from Big Bay on Santo have invested their earnings in a unique ‘water taro irrigation system’, merging the traditional knowledge
with partly modern invention they studied during their seasonal contracts in New Zealand over the past years, that has proven successful.
The new taro irrigation system introduced in Big Bay by the RSE Scheme workers was introduced in 2015, first as a pilot project, and already proven as one of the most successful unique island taro irrigation system with first harvest taking place earlier this year.
After completing their RSE Scheme contracts in New Zealand, the workers returned home to Big Bay. But before embarking on their various employment fruit picking in New Zealand over the past years, they collectively discussed what projects would be better suited for livelihood of their families and people in Big Bay, Santo.
While a number of ideas emmerged, they sought the assistance of their chiefs and community leaders. One such leader, Rovea Thomas, a former member of the Vanuatu Mobile Force Engineering Platoon, had been closely monitoring the climate change impact in the Pacific, the world and in particular at home in Vanuatu and Big Bay, Santo.
His advice to the RSE Scheme workers was to look at sustainable traditional local food cropping and invest their hard earning funds on food preservation and water system as well as looking at fishing projects.
As a result of the advice received from Rovea Thomas, the RSE Scheme workers agreed to invest in a unique sustainable island taro irrigation system, utilizing the old traditional methods provided by the chiefs and elderly village people and combining it with semi-modern system that the RSE Scheme workers saw in New Zealand.
The way they developed the unique island water taro system, is by constructing what Thomas described as “taro ponds” similar to fish bonds, but one pond that can hold a large number of taro seedlings.
The the water had to be piped, using modern poly pipe from the water source up in the hills. Before allowing the water to flow into the many “taro ponds”, the workers use red clay that is found in Big Bay, mixing this with large plastic covers that act as wall embankment to hold the water together and generating soil into mud that is favorable for taros to grow to the expected size as in a natural environmental system. The workers, with the advice of the elders and chiefs from the villages, and using both the traditional and semi-modern knowledge, they built many taro ponds.
To ensure that each taro pond is well irrigated, the workers develop a water piping system whereby pipes run through all taro ponds that extend to the size of up to three soccer fields.
When planting time comes the village chiefs is the first to ceremonially place his traditional wooden spade into the muddy pond symbolizing the beginning of planting season. Then workers begin the planting the taros, everyone busy planting in their various “taro bonds”.
“First, the people of Vanuatu should know that island taro is the food that is like wild yam, sustainable during natural disasters such as cyclone and drought.
Once harvested, they can be preserved in different ways to keep families and the population of villages from hunger.
“You can plant so many taros in a pond that once ready for harvest will provide food for months for the families,” said Thomas.
“The taro pond is not just for the crop as it also is a breeding area for prawns, eels and fishes.”
His advice to the RSE Scheme workers is to invest back in their villages.
“Do not depend on the government handouts during the natural disasters.
“Therefore invest your earnings in such project as this for survival and healthy living.
“Do not depend on Member of Parliament (MPs) handouts).
“There are hidden God given traditional knowledge that must be revived, and if need be, merged with semi–modern system for such difficult periods ahead,” Thomas emphasized.
He told the Daily Post that already, the first harvest of taro from the project has hit local markets in Luganville Santo with the support of the Department of Agriculture.
The Daily Post was told that the RSE Scheme workers from Big Bay have already embarked on another project and that is fishing.
They purchased fishing boats and gears, go to the sea in their rich fishing grounds, and bring their catches to the local markets and raking in and doubling their earnings.