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Launching of the Backyard Gardening Programme in Vanua Levu

October 15, 2019       Labasa

The Permanent Secretary for Agriculture;
The Commissioner Northern;
The Heads of Government Departments;
Representatives of Non-Government Organisations;
Senior Management and Staff of the Ministry of Agriculture;
Distinguished Guests;
Ladies and Gentlemen.

Ni sa bula vinaka, Namaste, Asalaam Alaykum, Noa’ia ‘E mauri, and a very good afternoon to you all.

It is indeed an honour and pleasure to be here with you this morning in Labasa to inaugurate this very important Government initiative through the Ministry of Agriculture, that of Backyard or Home Gardening!

Ladies and gentlemen, at the outset I would like to emphasise the importance of Backyard gardening; as it is being arguably, one of many common ways of interacting with nature and an equally enjoyable popular pastime in many countries too.

There is also an increasing awareness among researchers and health practitioners of the health benefits derived from home gardening activities. 

I believe that these benefits, is one of the many reasons why the Ministry wishes to initiate and promote such a programme here in our beloved Fiji.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Ministry of Agriculture had recently introduced five new initiatives which are now new policies to be implemented to further improve Agriculture Development and the overall output of the Sector.

These policies are:
1. Establishment of Fruit Tree Orchards Policy;
2. Upscaling of Pulses Seed Production Policy;
3. Backyard Gardening Policy;
4. Optimizing the use of Juncao Grass to Enhance
 Livestock Production Policy; and
5.  Commercial Agriculture Package Policy.

In April of this year, the Establishment of Fruit Tree Orchards was launched in Sigatoka and the Backyard Gardening Programme in Tavua respectively.

I would like to encourage and challenge you to continue or to establish and practice home gardening in your various communities and ensure that you gain maximum benefit from it.

From a personal perspective, it certainly improves your physical fitness and helps you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Today, we will be distributing to selected households a Backyard Gardening package worth $65 which includes a guide for gardeners, potting bags, seeds of four crops and fruit trees.

Each recipient will be required to fill a “Backyard Gardening Farmers Profile Form” to allow the Ministry of Agriculture staff to monitor the gardener’s activities and evaluate the impact of the programme.

Ladies and Gentlemen, most Economies view Home Gardening as a key facet to alleviating poverty and a source of nutrition to most households.

In Fiji, those who do not have a large yard for gardening do not have to feel left out.

They can still grow many of their favourite vegetables and even sell the surplus to generate extra income for their families with innovative and smart Home Gardening techniques.

Considering these benefits and ensuring that no one is left behind, the Ministry had piloted this programme to target urban and peri-urban areas along the Ba, Tavua corridor in Viti Levu.

Out of that pilot program, Sixty homes in Ba and Tavua have established their home gardens and have also sold their surplus produce at local markets.

Here in Vanua Levu, I believe that this home in Naseakula Road, Labasa Town is the best location where we can witness the programme first hand, the urgent need for this initiative and how it will positively impact the lives of people who reside in Labasa.

Ladies and gentlemen, and as to be expected, there is now much more attention being given to home gardening as a strategy to enhance household food and nutrition security and providing multiple environmental and ecological benefits.

Recognising the value and potential of home gardens to enhance food security and livelihoods, numerous initiatives have been launched by governmental, non-governmental, and international organisations in many developing countries that are providing support and enhance local capacity to scale-up and enhance the productivity of home farming activities.

Subsequently, new and innovative home gardening technologies will be introduced to sustain costs, increase returns and renew the interests of those involved.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this initiative of home gardening will be introduced to households in the four [4] geographical divisions.

Initially, the Ministry is targeting the urban and peri-urban households for obvious reasons.

In comparison to those in rural areas, many of those living in urban and peri-urban areas are always challenged by limited land area and space for planting.

Many are also limited by knowledge and resources for planting.

Many families living in these areas are still struggling to properly afford the cost of living, let alone affording a healthy diet.

Many maintain single parent homes and social welfare benefit families struggling to make ends meet.

Therefore, these programmes will introduce very simple techniques such as horizontal and vertical container methods to optimize space for planting.

These programmes will ensure that Fijian families living in these areas have improved access to wholesome fresh produce which should have a significant reduction in food costs.

We are all aware of the harmful impacts of chemicals and pesticides, and regrettably, time and again, we have found its traces in our food chain. 

The backyard gardening programme ensures that people cultivate food using safe practices such as organic farming systems.

Establishing this programme here today provides an opportunity to focus more attention towards backyard farming as a strategy to enhance household food and nutrition security.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am particularly impressed with this initiative because it complements my other role as our beloved Nation’s Chief Advocate/Champion for the Fight against the prevalence of Non Communicable Diseases, as this initiative will further alleviate the problem of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) which is the leading cause of deaths globally, killing more people each year more than all other causes combined. 

Contrary to popular opinions, available data confirms that nearly 80% of NCD deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries.

Of the 57 million deaths that occurred globally in 2008, 36 million – almost two thirds – were due to NCDs, comprising mainly of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, diabetes and chronic lung diseases.

Looking at Fiji, non-communicable diseases have now replaced communicable diseases as the leading cause of both mortality and morbidity.

In addition, to the significant disease burden, non-communicable diseases are also associated with a huge cost burden to the Fijian economy through medical costs, productivity losses and other indirect costs.

Ladies and Gentlemen, in the year 2000, Fijian males made up the highest number of non-communicable disease related deaths at 2,168 rising to 2,986 in 2016, followed by females with the number of non-communicable disease related deaths rising from 1,537 (2000) to 2,351 deaths in 2016 (Health Information Unit, Ministry of Health & Medical Services, 2018).

There is increasing evidence that proper diets, exercising and gardening provide substantial human health benefits.

Now, allow me to share with you, the numerous benefits of this initiative that will positively impact households and communities.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s intention for the programme is to encourage rural and urban household farming in order to produce and consume food crops that are healthier and nutritious.

  1. Fruits and vegetables from your own garden
are higher in nutrients and save more money compared to if you purchased vegetables from the grocery store;

2.  Having your children assist you in the garden can increase the chance that they will eat more of the fruits and vegetables they helped to grow; allows them to learn the benefits of backyard gardening and continue the tradition;

3.  Growing your own fruits and vegetables offers an ideal opportunity to reduce the amount of pesticides that is used in gardens, making them healthier and ensuring that it is safer for you and your family;

4.  Gardening increases the level of physical activity as it is a great way to engage the whole family in physical activity and allows them to take responsibility for their own gardens and contributes to the reduction of non-communicable diseases;

5.  The fruits and vegetables grown in your garden will promote health because they are rich in nutrients, especially in phytochemicals, anti-oxidants, vitamin C, vitamin A and folate; and

6. Gardening brings with it a sense of satisfaction when you can see the rewards of your efforts and allows you to appreciate your surrounding resources that provide you the opportunity grow your own fruits and vegetables.

Ladies and gentlemen, in conclusion, I would also  like to take this opportunity to specially thank the Minister for Agriculture, Rural and Maritime Development, Waterways and Environment, Honourable
Dr. Mahendra Reddy and his Assistant Ministers, Honourable Viam Pillay and Honourable Jale Sigarara, the Executive Management and Staff of the Ministry of Agriculture for such an initiative that will not only enable us to curb Non–Communicable Diseases in our local communities but will, more importantly, ensure that we continue to improve the livelihood and wellbeing of all Fijians.

Ladies and gentlemen, I am honoured to officially launch the Backyard Gardening Programme of the  Ministry of Agriculture in the Northern Division and look forward to proudly Champion this initiative throughout Fiji.

May Almighty God continue to bless you all and bless our beloved nation Fiji.

Vinaka Vakalevu, Dhanyavad, Shukhriya, Faiek’sia
and Thank You all.