In drawing learnings from the experience of a development programme, analysis of what did not work can be revealing.
With this knowledge, we can:
- identify areas for improvement
- identify shortcomings in project management, administration, communication and with NGO management in the home country
- improve planning for similar projects in future – we know what to leave out and where to focus our efforts.
Discovering what did not work, or worked in only a limited way, taught us to that cultural attitudes and practices can make a development approach or tool that has worked in other countries less acceptable in the Solomon Islands.
What follows are some of the things which proved less successful.
Demonstration, shared or community gardens met with limited success.
Experience with the community gardens at Bouna village, Guadalcanal, and at Sasamunga, Choiseul island, disclosed that community gardens serve well as training venues during the early phase of a project then fall into declining use and eventually —sometimes rapidly—become unviable.
It was only while they were acquiring new skills that people participated in the shared gardens. Skills acquired, they then return to their home gardens where they make use of the new ideas.
The tradition in the Solomons is one of food production in the family bush garden rather than a community garden.
When the lesson of the short term viability of shared gardens was learned, trainers shifted their emphasis to the family home or bush garden and worked through community-based village organisations, using home gardens as training venues.
Following visits to communities on Bougainville, which forms part of Papua New Guinea and is located adjacent to the northern Solomon Islands, Tony Jansen identified a clan-based approach to development as having potential.
Living fences around gardens
The idea of protecting a food garden by planting a living fence met with limited success.
Fences are necessary as a defence against the hardy, small chickens found in Solomon Island villages. These timid birds live a semi-feral life and can make short work of a vegetable garden. Living fences, if well made, also exclude village dogs and pigs.
The raised table garden was an effective innovation which avoided damage by chickens. But as these are practical for only small, shallow-rooted annual vegetable crops, larger gardens required other solutions and this led to trials of living fences.
A number of plant combinations were trialed by the KGP to identify the types most useful as a living fence:
- hibiscus interplanted with pineapple worked at first but was found to leave too many gaps through which chickens and dogs could enter the garden
- tea grass (the local name for lemon grass, so called because its leaves can be used to brew a lemon-flavoured tea and its stem used in Asian cooking) is a clumping grass but it was found to be too wispy, lacking the stiffness of foliage needed for a living fence
- the most successful grass for use as a living fence has been vetiver grass, a stiff-leafed, clumping, upright growing grass that can be close-planted to form a dense, almost impenetrable barrier to nuisance animals.
Other limiting factors common to the construction of living fences included:
- too many gaps through which chickens can enter and damage vegetable crops; living fences have to be close-planted and form a solid barrier without gaps
- gates left open or not maintained
- the time needed to establish a living fence and the problem of protecting vegetable crops while the fence grows.
An A-frame is a farmer-made device for marking out contour lines across sloping land. Along the contours, plants such as vetiver grass or leguminous shrubs or trees are planted to reduce the downslope movement of soil and organic matter during heavy rains or to establish an alley cropping system.
Despite the acceptance of the A-frame by farmers in other countries, the tool has generated little interest in the Solomons. KGP trainers attempted to introduce the device over three workshops, however it was not adopted.
The A-frame has never been part of the Solomon Island agricultural toolkit and is not seen as necessary to successful cropping. Bush gardens on sloping land are established across the slope by eye.
Sharing of information
Solomon Islanders keep information to themselves rather than share it. This has been a limiting factor in spreading the techniques introduced by the program. Retaining information is believed to increase competitive advantage.
To counter the practice, facilitators try to create an environment in which farmers understand the benefits of sharing information. Visiting the gardens of farmers participating in the training programme is a practice that was found to encourage the sharing of knowledge.
Widely used in elsewhere to reduce the likelihood of transmitting soil-borne plant diseases and to avoid overexploitation of particular plant nutrients in the soil by specific crops, crop rotation has proved to be of little interest to Solomon Island subsistence gardeners.
The limited acceptance of the practice took the form of introducing a legume into the cropping cycle of annual vegetable gardens to maintain soil fertility. Foliage was slashed and using as mulch.
Complicating the acceptance of crop rotation is the fact that it is best suited to annual crops. All the staples in the Solomon Islands are root crops such as taro, cassava and yam.