Banana Diversity in an Outer Island of The Solomons

Sun, 08/03/2009 – Jude Fanton

Written September 2004 by Michel Fanton, one of the directors at The Seed Savers’ Foundation in Byron Bay, Australia,
I have just returned from two weeks in the Solomon Islands, east of Papua New Guinea in the Pacific. His visit was to support the efforts of their partners the Kastom Garden Association (KGA) and its seed saving arm the Planting Material Network (PMN).
The PMN has a programme to preserve the diversity of bananas on the outer island of Makira, a rich centre of domestication for bananas. Traditional varieties are fast disappearing. Since April 2002 the PMN has made three collections of more than one hundred and fifty types of bananas. This was done with the help of a grant passed on by The Seed Savers’ Network with the aim of helping local subsistence farmers.
There are only few kilometres of sealed roads on Makira, so the first collecting expedition was made by motor canoe and by foot along small tracks. Isolated villages with radio facilities were invited to donate their local banana varieties and delivered the suckers wrapped in woven coconut fronds and banana leaves.
Dorothy Tamasia, who is curating the two highland collections, was recently trained to describe th botany of bananas by international standards. She is now training girl students to recognize features of the plants, flowers, leaf shape and colour, trunk, etc. For the highland collection, Dorothy visited farmers from her language group in isolated villages she knows well. Did you know that there are more than 70 languages in the Solomon Islands ?
Students at the Manivovo Training Centre on the coast have contributed to the collection by bringing in banana suckers from their villages on their return from their annual holidays. Each variety is named and tagged with its origin, local name, donor’s name and utilisation. Some varieties are valued for bride price, others at different ceremonies and feasts. Some particular varieties are chosen for making rafts for transport. The Makira bananas look and taste very different to the commercial Cavendish type banana that we consume in the West, and have more complex flavours.
Support for small projects
This last three years Seed Savers has been able to pass on assistance to a growing number of community based organisations in Asia, Europe, the Pacific and Latin America. Groups supported in this last year were in Australia (50 local seed networks), Afghanistan, Bulgaria, Cuba, Ecuador (new national network), India (5), Indonesia, The Solomons and Vanuatu.
Seed savers volunteers are regularly spending time with some of these groups. Our latest intern, Yan, from Germany, is now volunteering in Bali with a local sustainable agriculture group, IDEP, creating seed posters.