Bowl of exotic tropical fruit used for the fruit tasting Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm at Cape Tribulation
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About Alison and Digby Gotts - Cape Tribulation


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The Fruit Tree Workshop

One of the main parts of Digby's job on Samoa is to involve villagers in growing their own fruit trees. To this end the fruit tree team is running a series of workshops for representatives of various village based groups who have sufficient influence to perhaps direct the interest of their village. The most influential of these is the "women's committee", which is composed of the women born in each village, and which together with the mayor and the priest control all activity in every village.

The Samoan government has a "Department of Women Affairs" (sic) which through the women's committees is running a campaign called "Healthy Village - Healthy People" as a competition between about 8 large villages on each island. One of the criteria for the competition has been that every house should have a vegetable garden. This has now been rewritten to say that every house should have a vegetable garden and some fruit trees.

Our first workshops have been to several of the women from each of the women's committees on both islands to give them some idea of the range of fruit trees that we have available and how to plant and care for a young grafted fruit tree. The only fruits that are seen commonly around the islands are those that will germinate on their own and survive by chance through to maturity. There is no knowledge in most villages about growing or caring for fruit trees, with possible exceptions for banana, cocoa and breadfruit. This benign neglect means that mango, banana, breadfruit and seedling orange trees are quite common but little else is seen. The trees that are around are usually poor quality, with small fibrous mangoes and sour oranges being the norm. There is no food culture associated with fruit except for breadfruit, banana and cocoa.

Digby has just come back from a two day visit to the island of Savaii, where the fruit team ran the second of these workshops. This took place in the fale belonging to the Department of Women Affairs near the ferry terminal. Women came from all over the island for the day, some travelling by bus for two hours to get there by 9:00. All very well dressed, in what must have been best clothes. Bright colours, satins, neck to ankle without exception for about 25 women.

The workshop opened with the local Methodist minister leading the group with a song (5 min), followed by the opening prayer (5 min), sermon (10 min) and another song (5 min). I suspect the songs were actually hymns but belted out with such enthusiasm that I hesitate to use that word. From the one or two English words that have entered the Samoan language, I gathered that the minister established a theme from Genesis that the growing of fruit trees was part of God's word and that therefore all Christian families should be growing fruit in obedience to God's will and that this may help in re-establishing the Garden of Eden.

Two senior bureaucrats from the Department of Women Affairs who carried on with the obedience and healthy body themes finally opened the workshop. All in all the opening ceremony took an hour and a half, right up to morning tea. Food is very a very important part of any meeting, and if judged inadequate will also doom the workshop to the same verdict. Morning tea therefore consisted of endless cups of cocoa or coffee or cordial with each participant having a plate of 5 buns and cakes and a scrambled egg sandwich to tide them over till lunch an hour and a half away. (My plate was the only one with some food left on it!)

The workshop finally got underway at 11:00, with three half hour sessions to lunchtime. Latest score on the "Healthy Village" competition was followed by the fruit variety demonstration and tasting. I had managed to find 20 species in current fruit, although only a few of these were ready to eat. Nevertheless, the women all managed to find space for some jakfruit, sweet carambola, sapodilla, pommelo, rollinia, abiu and water cherries. During this session, I was standing alongside one of the larger women, who in her excitement with tasting the rollinia turned to chat with her neighbour. Unfortunately the plastic chair, which had been coping valiantly with the 200+ Kg, finally failed because of the twisting movement and folded to the ground. My futile attempts to slow her descent basically left me patting her shoulder as she subsided. She decided to spend the rest of the workshop sitting cross-legged on the ground.

The third session had Tu'ulima demonstrating how plants could be grafted, using mango and pommelo brought for that purpose. There was general amazement that plants could be joined in this way, especially with the pommelo bud stuck to the side of a lemon tree. I suspect that rather than learning that the lemon shoots have to be cut away to get good pommelo growth, the women were more interested in the possibility of having both pommelo and lemons on the one tree and will now deliberately not cut away the root stock in order to get this result.

Workshops in Australia often have the participants get up at the end of each session and walk around them room or do some callisthenics to loosen up after so much sitting. The process is much the same in Samoa, with the difference that the participants all stand and shout out another hymn, with arm and body actions.

Lunch was brought out for everybody on the stroke of 12:30. The plates were heaped with a grilled fish, chicken curry, beef and vegetable stir fry, boiled bananas, rice, coleslaw and taro. And once again my plate was embarrassingly only half finished while every other plate was polished clean. At least some vegetables were present, unlike the meal in the hotel that night, which consisted only of protein and starch. It seems that the dietary problems go way beyond what can possibly be fixed in only a few years. The large servings and the imbalance in eating habits at every level in Samoan society are astounding to anyone brought up to eat fruit and vegetables with a minor touch of meat and starch.

Brenda's session after lunch was focussed on diet and a healthy life style. This is information that must be well known but individuals don't believe it applies to them. After another song about Trusting in Jesus, we planted some orange trees along a border of the Women Affairs property.

The workshop wound up at 2:30 with every participant being paid a travel allowance of 10 - 15 tala (A$5-$7.50) as well as being presented with two fruit trees (Valencia orange and rollinia) to take home and plant. The gift giving at the end of a workshop is an important aspect of Samoan culture. The gift is usually more food or money, but I had convinced the bureaucratic keeper of the purse that we could use the trees as the gift and not have the participants buy them. This was a novel idea that eventually the bean counters accepted. The women all seemed delighted with their gift and their day out, (the food must have been acceptable) and finished with a rousing song to thank us all for our trouble.

Brenda, Tu'ulima and I headed off then to pay a visit to all 8 hospitals on Savaii to assess the possibilities for fruit tree plantings around each set of buildings and to meet the staff to be involved with the planting and management. This part of the program had been arranged with the Health department and the Samoan Chief Nurse, so everyone was expecting us and delighted with having their very own real fruit trees in the grounds. The Women's Committees again would be supervising the care and planting, but the actual people would probably be different from the workshop participants, but not necessarily.

It seemed that everywhere we went that afternoon we would be seeing well dressed women from the workshop, lugging around two carrier bags with their potted fruit trees. Two of the hospitals had enough vacant land for a few hundred trees. My mind was reeling at the possibility that the Hospital Women's Committees turn out in future to be major exporters of rambutans from Samoa. Most however have only limited space, but still enough for 10 - 15 trees, sufficient for a limited flow of fruit through to the hospital staff and patients.

Only one of the hospitals has major problems with establishing fruit trees largely because it has been built on an old Tongan fort site. This was probably a natural lava rock mound that has been raised and levelled by bringing in smaller rocks to fill the gaps. The buildings are sitting on a pile of bare stones and rocks around 5 meters above the surrounding soil. No soil at all exists nor does anything smaller than a 10 cm diameter rock. I suggested planting trees in large pots, but no one seemed interested in that. However they do have access to some space across the road where the trees would be quite happy. It's just that they won't be contributing to the landscaping of the hospital.

So I'm working hard at depleting the Nafanua nursery stock. The trees we're handing out are getting younger and younger but still should be ok. The main problem now in the nursery is that there has been insufficient seed collected as they were getting too much money by selling the intact fruit. Another practice I've had to step on, particularly for abiu. I will be taking a crew out next week to visit friendly farmers and raid their old abiu trees for seed. Should be a fun day, covering everyone with rotten abiu flesh.

all the best from Samoa

Digby and Alison



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Bed and Breakfast accommodation on an exotic tropical fruit orchard at Cape Tribulation in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest
Cape Trib Exotic Fruit Farm, Lot 5 Nicole Drive, Cape Tribulation, Queensland, 4873, Australia - Tel: 0740 980057 - Fax: 0740 980067

Last updated December 19, 2013