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Other people’s money August 7th, 2014 by

I’m always delighted by the brilliant smallholder farmers I meet, like Osanti Ludawane in Takwa near the north end of Malaita, Solomon Islands. He grew up in Takwa, but graduated from high school in Honiara (the capital city) and then took two years of accounting school. After graduation, Osanti worked as an accountant before he “got tired of counting other people’s money,” so he took a three month course from a Taiwanese vegetable development farm, on growing fruits and vegetables, and then came back to Takwa to grow watermelons.

He harvests the fruit during the Christmas and New Year season and takes a few hundred melons by truck and boat to Honiara. He sells them and brings back chicken manure but that costs a lot of money. So Osanti knows that the next step is to lower fertilizer costs.

When I met Osanti in September, 2013, a lot of his neighbours were following his example, planting watermelons as a cash crop and still growing taro, sweet potatoes and cassava to eat at home.

Osanti has many useful innovations. He showed us the little cages of sticks that people pound into the earth around the crab holes in the watermelon fields. These “land crabs”, widespread throughout the Indo-Pacific, dig tunnels two meters deep, to burrows. While the burrow may have more than one exit, the crabs are highly territorial, living in the same burrow their whole life. When the tunnel entrances are disturbed or blocked, the crabs usually repair them within a week, and always as close as possible to the original entrance. This is enough to give the watermelon plants a respite, and the new crab door will be predictably close to the old one, and the farmers can easily peg it shut again.

Paul and I wondered what would happen if everyone in a village grew watermelons at the same time. Would the market collapse? I wrote to my colleague in the Islands, Dr. Pita Tikae, a fruit and vegetable expert. Pita had been to Takwa this year and had also seen one of the villagers in Honiara, looking for watermelon seed. The farmers of Takwa did so well with their watermelon last year that they are doing it again this year, for the Holiday Season. There is now so much demand for their fine melons that the prices have stayed high. Now their only problem is getting enough seed. Sometimes one person does make a difference.

For further reading:

Hurley, Jacqueline M. 2012 Recovery of the Terrestrial Crab Cardisoma carnifex After Burrow Disturbance. http://www.escholarship.org/uc/item/41z997bp#page-1

and

Foale, Simon 1999 Local Ecological Knowledge and Biology of the Land Crab Cardisoma hirtipes (Decapoda: Gecarcinidae) at West Nggela, Solomon Islands. Pacific Science 53(1):  37-49.

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