The development of agriculture extension services in Vanuatu has been closely related to agriculture and rural development.
The extension services provided by the Assistant Agriculture Officers (AAO) of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) is vital as important technical advice are transferred to local farmers so that farmers can improve their livelihoods, community resilience and food security.
There are over 30 DARD Extension Officers throughout Vanuatu.
Michel Lokre is currently working as the AAO for North West A (NW A) on the island of Malekula.
He has been working with the farmers of different communities in this area for about two years.
AAO Lokre says one of the main activities for this year is establishing a seed bank for MALAMPA Province.
“I am working with some key vegetable farmers to assist them with the collection of their own seeds.
“Most of the farmers have collected their own seeds, awaiting the support of Vanuatu Skills Partnership (VSP) Centre on Malekula to provide packaging materials so that farmers can begin with the packaging process of their seeds.
“These seeds will be exhibited during the National Week of Agriculture (NWA) in August on Tanna, to show that farmers from MALAMPA province are able to produce their own seeds that are local open pollinated seeds.
“These farmers have the skills to establish and manage nurseries but there is a need for farmers to acquire good quality seedlings and producing their own seeds,” AAO for NW A, Lokre, said.
There are 15 selected key vegetables and root crops farmers from NW A, NW B, Central and South of Malekula island that are currently working with AAOs on the island to produce their own seeds.
The VSP has assisted these farmers with nursery materials, farming tools, water tanks and meeting labour costs.
“Such assistance has motivated the farmers to do more work to increase their production and also stimulate the interests of other farmers.
“Preparations are well underway in relation to packaging of local seeds for the NW A 2021.
Last year (2020), these farmers attended a training on managing a nursery as a business, organized by the VSP with DARD in Lakatoro, Malekula.
The training aimed to improve farmers’ skills on how to produce good quality seedlings which will lead to good quality produce.
The training is to support these key farmers and DARD Extension Officers to improve their technical skills in managing a nursery.
The farmers were equipped with important information on seeds propagation, seeds extraction and preservation.
AAO Lokre added, “As a result of this training, the farmers from NW A were able to extract their vegetable seeds and are now producing their own vegetable seeds.
“It is a simple operation but it will have a huge impact on the farmers’ production, increase resilience and reduce their expenses on purchasing imported seeds and transportations.
“One of the main challenge for farmers in rural areas is accessing seeds.
The farmers already have the knowledge of seed propagation or reproducing their own seeds but there are a few technical areas that need improvement such as the process of sowing seeds, nursery design, seed substrate, business management, analyzing cost of seeds and seedlings, knowing target suppliers who can supply seeds, irrigation and other technical areas.
In addition, other activities included working with other farmers to increase their farm production.
“I am also working with a root crop farmer, Michel Bahur, to multiple his yam mini sets ready for the next planting season this year.
“Farmer Bahur has over 700 yam tubers in his nursery.”
AAO for NW A, Lokre, said many farmers are also interested in growing pepper.
“A pepper nursery was established and pepper seedlings are already distributed to farmers.
Farmers on NW A also grow rice and have already harvested their crops.
“A recent workshop on rice production up to processing stage of rice with rice farmers ended with the polishing of rice using the rice milling machine.
AAO for NW A concluded, “I would like to encourage all farmers to continue to work hard to solve the challenge of water shortages during dry periods and to keep on working in preparation towards the NW A, which is an opportunity to learn from other farmers and implement new ideas after the NW A.”