Overview of Agriculture and Farming
Rabi Island, Fiji
by Carolyn Wright
Rabi is a small island situated off the northeast coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji's second-largest island in the Fiji group. The island is near 17 degree latitude and sits on the International Date Line at 180 degrees. The island consists of approximately 17,000 rich volcanic acres and rises to a height of 1,550 feet above sea level.
The island is covered with natural vegetation and an abundance of coconut trees. Before the Banabans settlement on Rabi in 1945 (1), the island was used as a copra plantation by the famous Lever Brothers group. With mainly steep hillsides, there is not a lot of flat land suitable for large scale conventional agriculture (such as sugar cane). Villages are located close to the coast, so gardens must tolerate salty air and, in low areas, sandy soil.
Copra plantations had been established initially on the lower slopes, and some land was cleared for this purpose. Copra is the dried white flesh from the coconut.
I have no records for Rabi Island but present these from other areas of Fiji (2).
RAINFALL AND TEMPERATURE CHART
A range of fruit and vegetables is grown for local use. I have listed the ones I saw in December 1995. There are sure to be some I missed.
● Breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis)
● Soursop (Annona muricata)
● Amaranth (Amaranthus viridis)
● Bele (Abelmoschus Manihot)
● Cassava (Manihot esculenta)
● Eggplant (Solanum melongena)
● Long beans (Vigna sequipedalis)
● New Guinea bean (Trichosanthes cucumerina)
● Tomato (Lycopersicon esculentum)
● A new variety of dwarf coconuts is being trialled at present. These have the advantage of maturing earlier.
I saw several plantations of each of these, up to several hectares in size. The major problem is weeds in such high rainfall:
● Kava (Piper methysticum)
Small numbers of these were seen for local use:
● Hens. (free-range, which means eggs are often hard to find and can be stolen by dogs and mongooses.)
● Ducks. (just a few)
● Goats (tethered)
● Cattle (tethered)
● Pigs (tethered, penned or individually housed)
There are two desirable objectives that I see. Firstly Rabi Island has the resources to be self-sufficient in providing the fruit, vegetables, meat, milk and honey for its population. Buying any of these from elsewhere must prove expensive when living on an island because of transport and handling costs. The second objective would be the development of more commercial produce for export off the island. Outside factors, particularly price, will limit choices here (3).
Because Rabi Island is such a pristine environment, I would be very hesitant to use herbicides. Maybe glyphosate (Roundup, Zero) at the most, as it is supposed to break down on contact with the soil and not leave any residues.
Possible alternatives are:
The use of heavy mulches also prevent erosion and break down to enrich the soil. In Australia, layers of newspapers are often placed under the mulch, keeping weeds out for several months.
Large sheets of plastic do the same job and will heat the soil underneath so that weed seeds are killed. The plastic can then be moved (after four weeks or so) to another area.
Use of pigs which will uproot the area and fertilise it at the same time. Tethers or portable pens could be used. Obviously, pigs would need water to be supplied and additional food. (We use hens in a portable enclosed pen to do the same thing in gardens).
Flame throwers. (Not when there is a danger of starting a bushfire) A number of portable devices are available (including gas-powered). Weeds do not need to be blackened - just heated enough to make them go limp. (The heat causes the water in the plant cells to boil, and they burst).
Brush cutters - which also require fuel.
There are many which should be grown for local use. These should be tried in a number of locations to establish where they would grow best and so the maximum number of people could watch their progress. The best place to start would be to see what is doing well on the other islands. Unfortunately, I did not have time to see any other parts of Fiji. Visits to markets would be helpful, and the Department of Agriculture would supply technical information. Rabi Island is fortunate to have a Department of Agriculture station on the island, and a variety of crops is being trialled. Some excellent private gardens are also grown by teachers stationed at the High School. Here is a list of plants I did not see which should be able to be grown for local use.
(I realise that many of these are probably grown, but I missed seeing them. )
● Jackfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)
● Sapote (Calocarpum mammosum Monstera deliciosa)
● Star apple (Chrysophyllum caimito)
● Litchi (Litchi chinensis)
● Akee (Blighia sapida)
● Macadamia nuts
● Pacific lychee (Pometia pinnata)
● Tahitian chestnut (Inocarpus fagifer)
● Malay apple (Syzygium malaccense)
● Polynesian vi-apple (Spondias dulcis)
● Lolo (Ficus vitiensis)
● Vutu (Barringtonia edulis
● Indian almond (seeds) (Terminalia catappa)
● Sorghum (for poultry)
● Pigeon peas (Cajanus cajun)
● all types of herbs, and Asian vegetables
● Yams (Dioscorea alata)
● Sweet potatoes
● Sweet corn
● Peanuts (in winter)
● Sukau (Gnetumgnemon)
● Fiji asparagus (Saccharum edule)
The healthiest pigs seen had their diets supplemented by fish. Unfortunately, this was tinned. I believe more use could be made of pigs own foraging ability by moving them every day to a new area. They could be tethered or portable pens used. Pigs can be controlled with electric fencing at 30 cm above the ground. Solar electric fencing units are available. Of course, water containers would need to be moved as well.
I expected to see more as they are so easy to care for, and I enjoy their meat (chevon). The ones I saw were certainly healthy. If anyone was interested in improving either their meat or milk production, stock could be improved by introducing a buck from a desired breed. In Australia, Boer goats have been recently introduced to improve meat production.
Pasture is in plentiful supply. I recognised many tropical pasture species, including setaria, siratro, demodium and leuceuna. Fencing would have to be done to prevent cattle from destroying gardens. I suggest buying dairy females, which can then be mated to a beef bull, and their calves can be used for the meat after the first year.
The fastest method to achieve this would be to buy pregnant cows. The cheapest method would be to buy dairy heifer calves immediately and tether them. Some paddocks could be fenced in the second year. The heifers could be mated at the end of their second year, thus producing calves and milk in their third year. Australian Milking Zebu or Australian Friesian Sahiwals would be suitable breeds, but it would depend on what is available nearby. In the third year, a set of yards could be started to work with the growing calves when they are weaned.
Rabi Island has great potential. Variety should be wide so people can see what grows best and to provide a varied diet. I commend the work being done by Bouka, the Youth Program Officer and his team. They already have demonstration gardens in the villages and have tools and brush cutters available for hire. I thank him for his assistance to me.
The Banabans first arrived on Rabi Island, Fiji at the end of World War II, with exaggerated reports from the British government that all of the villages of the island had been destroyed, the Banabans were gathered and taken to Rabi in Fiji, over 3,200 kilometres away. On 15 December 1945, 703 ill-treated and weary Banabans, of whom 318 were children, and 300 Gilbertese arrived at their new home.
Location Rabi, Fiji.
Rabi Trade 2001.
Her informative article was written by Carolyn in 1995 and appeared as the 'Feature Story' in - Issue No. 22 of the 'Banaba/Ocean Island News'. Carolyn spent three weeks on Rabi Island when she went to the island at the request of the Banaban Heritage Society to look at ways in which agriculture projects could be developed to assist the community.
Today Rabi farming is undergoing a transformation to become sustainable through the use of traditional, organics, and sustainable practices ensuring a future for our next generation. The island farmers will produce their crops under Organic Certification. For more information visit Rabi Organics :https://www.facebook.com/rabiorganics