Rice farming on the rise in Santo

The number of farmers growing rice on Santo has grown from just two in 2019 to around 50 in 2020.

Geraldine Neirove, a Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Rice Research and Development Officer who is based in Santo, says some Santo farmers have harvested over 200 kilograms of rice this year alone.

Ms Neirove says it is good to see more Santo farmers growing rice as she believes the crop is a good investment for farmers, with rice a popular food item in Vanuatu.

She says locally grown rice is fresher to eat than processed shop-bought rice and the locally grown produce is organic which is also healthy for local families.

Ms Neirove says another advantage of growing rice in Vanuatu is that it is resistant after harvest and can be stored and preserved longer than other crops such as sweet potatoes, cassava and green vegetables, which do not last as long once harvested.

“Rice can be stored for one to two years after it is harvested, making it a crop that can help to sustain people’s food supply when other foods have gone off, for example, after a disaster,” she said.

She says after Cyclone Harold, there were farmers on Santo who had harvested rice before the cyclone and were able to rely on their rice supplies to sustain them after the disaster.

Ms Neirove says the agriculture department is encouraging more Ni Vanuatu to grow rice as a way of tackling food security issues.

She says in the past Santo farmers were not interested in growing rice because there was no rice milling machines available.

But in August this year, her department handed over a rice-milling machine to the Sanma Provincial Agriculture Office and she says now there is a machine available and famers have seen successful rice growing, harvesting and milling, more people are interested in growing rice.

Local farmers have been giving rice seeds to the department so they can be distributed to other farmers who have shown an interest in trying rice growing.

“Currently we are short of rice seeds so I go back to the farmers to get more seeds from them and then give the seeds to the new farmers,” she said.

Ms Neirove plans to continue distributing rice seeds to interested farmers and will continue to run rice farming training sessions for farmers. She also plans to set up two rice demonstration plots on Santo and on Tanna, where many farmers are also interested in planting rice.

Ms Neirove says with the COVID-19 lockdown it has been hard for the agriculture department to purchase hybrid rice varieties from overseas, so she plans to cross pollinate two local rice varieties to create a local hybrid rice for Vanuatu.

The agriculture department currently promotes four local varieties of rice to local farmers – Tanna rice, Santo rice, Nari 1 rice and Nari 15 rice – with all varieties grown on dry not swampy land.

The department says local Santo rice grows well on Santo but can grow well on other islands as well.

In 2019, local Tanna and Nari 15 rice varieties were bought to Santo and it was the Nari 15 rice that grew well there.

The department has also distributed Nari 15 rice seeds to farmers from Malekula, Maewo, Banks, Epi and Efate.

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