The communities of Big Bay inland and coastal areas, Santo, are fortunate to have an Assistant Agriculture Officer (AAO) who is currently working with the local farmers in relation to agricultural activities.

He is Mr Rudy Bong. AAO Bong met with the local farmers in Big Bay for the first time through his engagement with the registration of local farmers under the Vanuatu Primary Producers Authority (VPPA).

Bong has decided to commence working with local farmers in Big Bay coast before moving to Big Bay inland since most of the kava suppliers are located inland.

“The first activity was the engagement of De Queiros School with the establishment of a multiplication plot (50metres x 50m) of root crops such as manioc, kumala, taro, island cabbage, corn and rice,” AAO Bong said.

“The main idea of involving the school was to ensure maintenance of the demonstration plot and to engage students in agricultural activities and at the same time introduce new varieties and resilient root crops to remote areas such as cassava, taro and kumala.

“The Santo Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has assisted the school with fencing wire to protect the demonstration plot.

“The multiplication or demonstration plot was established in August 2020 and a field day is scheduled for this month (November).

“The field day aims to bring the students and farmers together and as part of awareness the Rice Research and Development Officer will assist with the harvesting of rice and demonstrate to farmers and the students how to harvest a rice farm.”

The De Queiros school management has acknowledged the support provided by DARD through the AAO as such activity will motivate the school to continue to grow local food to ensure food security.

AAO Bong stated, “Another activity was implemented with Labe Primary School in establishing a rice plot.

“The students were provided with 400 grams of rice seeds of Local Santo variety and were grown in an area of 22m x 22m.

“This is a first rice project that the school was engaged in.

“The school believe such project will benefit the students in the future.

Bong continued, “I have discovered that growing vegetables is not an activity that most Big Bay inland farmers are involved in.

“I managed to do some awareness on the importance of doing backyard gardens and having a balanced diet daily.

“I have observed that most of the farmers’ gardens are far away from where they reside, thus walking long distance to access local food.

“I encouraged the farmers to start doing backyard gardening to easily access fresh vegetables at their doorsteps.

“The outcome was very positive as most farmers came to realize the importance of having balanced diet in their daily meals.

“I have seen a huge positive change within the communities as more people are involved in backyard gardening.

“I have worked with the farmers to set up a nursery using available local materials.”

AAO Bong mentioned that many farmers are also interested in growing commercial tree species and raising small livestock.

“I have managed to seek information from the Forestry and Livestock Departments and at the same time collect information materials that will assist me with the awareness on these two sectors to assist interested farmers as there are no officers of Forestry and Livestock on the ground.

“I will also seek assistance from the Vanuatu Agriculture Research and Technical Centre (VARTC) to support me with citrus seedlings so I can provide them to interested farmers.

“There are more activities yet to be implemented in Big Bay area before end of 2020 and in the years to come.

“I would like to encourage local farmers to make good use of the technical advice provided by government officers as most remote areas do not have access to such advice to assist them grow productive sectors in their areas,” AAO Bong concluded.

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