Can Organic Agriculture be implemented in Pohnpei?
Abstract. Organic agricultural methods are becoming the desired form of agriculture
around the world due its sustainable techniques and health-safe products. The island of
Pohnpei, part of the Federated States of Micronesia, has not yet began to fully utilize
the availability of information and lessons of successful organic agriculture practice.
Depending heavily on imports for dietary needs, it would be beneficial for Pohnpei to
adopt methods of organic agriculture to develop a more self-sufficient form of food
production. Ideally, the implementation of organic agriculture will improve lands,
resources, and the health of the people.
The island of Pohnpei lies in the North Pacific Ocean, about three quarters of the
way from Hawaii to Indonesia (The World Factbook, 2007). Pohnpei heavily depends
on food imports from the US, Japan, and Australia. Its main crops and exports are fish,
copra, banana, and black pepper (SIDSNET, 2000). Some biophysical vulnerabilities
include the fragile environments of the island nations, limited land resources, shortages
of basic resources, and risks associated with global warming (Cocklin et al., 2000). The
purpose of this paper is to explore Pohnpei‟s traditional methods of agriculture, organic
agricultural systems, and methods based in other countries, and possible
implementation of organic agriculture into Pohnpei systems.
Cuba‟s methods of organic agriculture will be a major point of reference when
discussing systems and methods. Cuba, following 1990‟s embargo, emerged from a
crisis by developing a different system of agriculture. Prior to embargo, Cuba‟s sugar
production outweighed that of food. In addition, Cuba was heavily dependent on
imported pesticides and food (57% of diet relied on imports). With the majority of the
crops devoted to exported sugar and a loss of imported resources, Cuba was forced to
develop applicable methods of sustainable agriculture (C.I. Nicholls et al.).
Resources from the Pohnpei State Department of Agriculture provided
information on Pohnpei‟s current and traditional methods of agriculture. Also provided
by them is data pertaining to land utilized by each crop, the efficiency of these methods,
and observed benefits and difficulties.
An extensive array of available journal material pertaining to organic agriculture
was reviewed. Viable methods of other countries‟ successful organic agriculture
practices are presented in this paper as possible methods for implementation on the
island of Pohnpei.
Traditional Agricultural Practices of Pohnpei
(The Department of Agriculture has sent me some information via post, but I have not
received it. I will input data and collected information when it arrives. After our first
drafts are given back, I will revise quickly and add new information – and show it to you.)
Defining Organic Agriculture
Organic (sustainable) agriculture systems are supposed to significantly reduce
energy and resource use, by reusing resources in the farming system. Major focus on
organic agriculture is to solve environmental, safety, and health problems faced by
modern conventional agriculture. Conventional agriculture depends on the use of
pesticides and machinery (Guthman, 2000; Xie Bao et. al, 2002). Organic agriculture
seeks to feed the plants indirectly by focusing on soil health. Organic agriculture‟s
impediment in the use of fertilizers is due to artificial fertilizers feeding the actual plant,
rather than the soil. Conventional agriculture is more forceful on plant life, pushing for
maximum production. Organic agriculture takes a gentler approach; more energy is
channeled into the structure and life of soil and plants (Haas et al., 2002; Lockeretz,
1982). The interactions of nutrient elements in the soil are very complex, and a
significant increase in any one frequently alters the availability of others, either positively
or negatively (Hodges, 1981). Application of one or more nutrients in large quantities to
obtain maximum productivity may result in crop nutrient imbalances or excessive uptake
of nutrients. Either situation may make the crop more susceptible to pests or diseases
(Lockeretz, 1982). Plants are also affected by fertilizers; when supplied in excess, they
can lead to consumption risks due to alterations in the plant‟s chemical content, or water
that has been polluted by runoff or leaching of the fertilizer (Schupan, 1974). The use of
conventional agriculture affects all levels of the environment – it affects soil and plant
life, consumption of plants by all levels of the biota, and water resources. Organic
agricultural practices are based on the use and renewal of resources derived from the
environment, with a focus on sustainability rather than maximum productivity.
Different methods of organic agriculture are utilized in a variety of different areas
in which techniques are successful because of environment and systems compatibility.
For example, in Cuba alone, the alternative model of agriculture involves (1) the use of
organic fertilizers („biofertilizers); (2) biological control of pests; (3) adjusting crops and
animals to local ecological conditions; (4) animal traction and other forms of energy; (5)
crop diversification in the form of rotations and mixed cropping; (6) soil conservation,
reclamation of degraded lands and reforestation; (7) integrated crop-livestock systems;
and (8) urban agriculture (Funes et al., 2001). Concurrently, there was a promotion of
small and medium farms (Guthman, 2000). A reason for Cuba‟s success in the
conversion was due to government support, and above all, the community‟s
For this paper, three techniques will be chosen as the essential techniques
needed to be implemented as a sustainable form of agriculture in Pohnpei. These three
will be a starting point for the development of organic agriculture, but over time, with
more practice, more techniques may be incorporated into the system.
Cuba scientists have found it important in developing less favorable conditions
for the development of harmful organisms while encouraging diversity and abundance
of natural enemies (Vazquez & Almaguel,1997). Formerly focused on monoculture,
farmers are now adopting crop rotation. Crop rotation has been known to be widely
effective against weeds. Scientists have found ways to combine both the use of crop
rotation for effective weed and pest management (C.I. Nicholls et al.). In most
polycultures, the regulation of insect pest densities has been attributed to enhance
abundance and activity of predator and parasitoids (Perez et al., 1998). In Cuba, these
crop rotations were mainly between maize, potatoes, and beans (a nitrogen-fixing
vegetable). As a result of the suppressing effect, polycultures have produced higher
yields than monocultures (Quintero, 1999). Crop rotation increases amounts of organic
residue that support root biomass (Magdoff et al., 2004). For the island of Pohnpei,
studies need to be designed to determine which crop associations are best to produce
Organic Matter Ammendments
As researcher Matsuzaki says, “All organic wastes generated on the earth should
be fully utilized as compost so that they are turned back to farmland soil (International
Conference on Nature Farming, 1989).As with the continuing theme of organic
agriculture in “feeding the soil”, the usage of organic matter has great effect on all soil
properties (chemical, biological, and physical), and therefore places it at the center of
soil health and quality (author). In this way, the use of organic management practices
that enhance the soil also increase the addition of organic materials to the soil, use a
variety of different types of organic materials, and decrease the rate of loss of organic
matter (Lockeretz, 1982). Compost is a very valuable and useful resource, but also a
very laboring task to produce (Sunag, 2005). In areas like Pohnpei, where land is
abundant, it would be effective to implement a method resembling the alive ecosystems
of forests: in which organic substances are allowed to decompose where the soil
remains in contact with plants, without composting, and returning it into the soil. Also,
the use of well-ripened compost as fertilizer and organic substances which have been
subject to mulching as compost are thought to be an effective and labor saving way for
utilizing more effective tools of composting (Sunag, 2005).
Two methods of biological agents is the use of insecticidal plants and
microorganisms. Part of the biological control of pests is the cultivation and production
of species of plants with insecticidal qualities. In Cuba, these plants are Neem
(Azadirachta indica) and Paradise (Melia azedarach). The advantages of the use of
these plant extracts is that small scale-production is viable and it can be used directly by
farmers since no complex extractions are needed (Estrada & Lopez 1998). The use of
microorganisms are in the form of bacteria, fungi, and protozoans. Microorganisms are
specific to certain pests, and if not controlled can contribute to unwanted disturbances
to other members of the biota. However, a healthy population (determined through
testing) of microorganisms has shown to decrease pest populations and increase the
overall health of the soil by increasing organic residue(Lockeretz, 1982; C.I. Nicholls et
al.). This method was included because it is becoming universally used in the organic
agriculture. Though far from it, with studies, Pohnpei can determine cultivate
insecticidal plants and use them to plant between to plant niches in order to suppress
pests populations. In the case of microorganismal biological control, it is possible. With
more studies with the use of microorganismal control on local agriculture can verify
which forms are successful. Once this is done at the research level and made more
abundant, this resource will be more available to the community.
It is essential that the implementation of organic agriculture becomes a combined
effort between the local system of hierarchy and the community (Thiers, 2005).
Conversion may be successful if traditional agriculture and organic agriculture are
formed into one system based on successful practices in Pohnpei. The local system of
hierarchy, composing of chiefs, may have more influence in the overall acceptance of
implementation by the people. In order to first influence the chiefs, it is vital to perform a
case study reflective of old and new techniques combined and current techniques in
operation, to show a comparison of benefits and disadvantages. Also, once there is
acceptance among the chiefs, it is important to educate the people on environmental
problems with the current methods of food production.
Once an island that depended on mainly local food grown in the area (i.e.
breadfruit, taro, yam, banana, etc.), Pohnpeians have now grown dependent on
processed, imported foods for a heavy percentage of their diet. This has contributed to
a rapid increase in diabetes and heart disease.
The cultivation of local food was once very prevalent on the island of Pohnpei.
Elders still hold a lot of the traditional agriculture that was used in the past. However,
the youth are not actively participating in the preservation of traditional knowledge and
the elders view it as a change in times – in that a new age presents a new way. Around
the world, people are going back to their roots and are reapplying old, environmentally
sound techniques in replacement of conventional ones. It‟s important that Pohnpei
takes this path as well.
More availability of fruits and vegetables and increased local food production
may reduce the high sodium and fat diets that Pohnpeians currently have. Also, having
a local operation of sustainable agriculture will minimize the need of imported food.
Locally produced food will be cheaper, fresher, and more available to all of the public.
Equally important, getting the community more connected to the protection and proper
utilization of their environment will promote more unity between the older and younger
generations of Pohnpei.
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