Henrietta Merei, a retired nurse and long time member of Bo-o-od remarked that she depends on her Sers or dry land farm to provide food for her family, produce to market, and for cultural obligations. She works hard at her Sers yet the crops are seldom healthy and the yield is not plentiful. This is the reason why she and other members of Bo-o-od, a women’s traditional organization of Airai requested the Palau Conservation Society (PCS) to hold a sustainable farming demonstration at the Bo-o-od Yasiring in Oikull, Airai State on Saturday, November 25. [restrict]
Agriculture expert, Gorkas Basilius of PCAA started off the demonstration by explaining that Babeldaob is mostly hills and slopes so what we do on our Sers in the hills will affect the watershed and everything else that is below the hills. He emphasized the fact that in these times of climate change, the best response to protecting our watersheds from erosion is to apply traditional soil conservation practices that are derived from the Mesei. These practices are Palau-proven as they have been practiced for thousands of years with minimal negative impact to the environment.
The demonstration continued with Mr. Paul Lake of USDA-NRCS explaining the importance of applying hedgerows especially on farms that are on slopes to manage water flow and soil erosion. Value added plants were introduced and functions discussed including the use of keskus or lemon grass to hold the soil, repel insect and pest as well as medicine. The Besungelaiei or Flemingia which is a nitrogen fixer so it provides materials for mulching and the seeds are used to stuff pillows.
Soil conditioning and amendment was probably the most engaging part of the demonstration. Dr. Hide Omae of the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) used the analogy of a breast feeding mother to demonstrate the importance of natural compost. According to Dr. Omae, the soil is like a breast feeding mother and the plant is like a baby. Without proper nutrition in the soil there is no way the baby can be healthy. In this light, adding natural compost to the soil makes it more fertile and will result in more productive crops. He further emphasized that the use of chemical fertilizers on Babeldaob’s poor soil will only further damage the already unfertile soil.
To drive the point home Gorkas, Paul, and Dr. Omae built a compost pile at the edge of the Sers to demonstrate how easy it is to gather natural materials that produce compost that actually condition the soil and result in continued productive crops. All of the methods shared and promoted at this demonstration are agro-ecological, low-cost, and low-tech that can be easily applied by individuals. In this regard, the women of Bo-o-od are now aware of sustainable farming practices that can protect our valuable watersheds, more importantly they have improved their resilience to the impacts of climate change. The Airai watershed is very important as it supplies water to the majority of population in Palau living in Airai and Koror therefore we must do all we can to protect it.
To wrap up the demonstration the ladies of Bo-o-od shared their impression of the information discussed. Many remarked that they have learned that it is important to manage the water flow so that stormwater does not wash away the topsoil. Others remarked that it is now clear why chemical fertilizer only produces good crops for one planting cycle and that they have a better understanding of the value of natural compost. Any group or individuals interested in learning more about sustainable farming practices please call PCS at 488-3993/4716.
This project is made possible by the support of the American People, through the U.S. Agency for International Development. [/restrict]