Dear Editor – Following up on the theme of sustaining our rural communities, I would like to share a little story with your readers which might help to encourage one or more to become self-sufficient in food production.
The story begins in Vanuatu (then known as the New Hebrides) in 1972-1974 when I commanded the police on the island of Santo.
In addition to my police responsibilities I was also the one who had to oversee the Santo Prison.
The prison itself was a low level building adjoining an empty paddock which was generally used by the low risk prisoners for some daily exercise.
There was no shortage of prisoners, month in month out, because the Native Court functioned very well and prison terms were ordered for a wide range offences including adultery.
It concerned me that the inmates had limited exercise and their daily diet was poor consisting of rice, a vegetable or two and occasionally a piece of fish.
Morale was also an issue due to the overcrowding of the prison quarters by short-term inmates.
I decided to turn the paddock into an organic food garden. There was no money and I had to start from scratch.
With the help of some of my policemen we collected a large quantity of empty Foster’s beer cans from the town, cut the top off them and pierced a few small holes in the bottom for drainage purposes.
We did the same with all the plastic containers we could find in the town’s refuse bins.
I got the prisoners to fill the cans and the containers with a light soil mix and an element of sand which was dug up from a corner of the paddock.
In the containers lettuce seeds were planted and tomato seeds in the beer cans.
The weather in Santo was kind to us and very soon we had all the individual seedlings to plant out in the soil the prisoners had prepared with a few hand tools such as spades and rakes which were given as gifts by the local hardware store.
Two 44 gallon drums were also gifted and we used them to create a mix of liquid manure.
This was done by suspending a sack of cow manure in each drum of water.
Very soon we had a flourishing garden full of fresh lettuces and a huge crop of tomatoes.
The local BP Store bought the lettuces and tomatoes and we had some money.
With the money the prisoners made small pens out of locally cut bamboo and encased the bamboo poles with wire netting.
Day old chicks were imported from Australia utilizing the profits from the garden produce and soon we had enough hens providing meat and fresh eggs.
For the first time the prisoners were able to supplement their daily rations with vegetables and added protein.
The garden took off from there with the cultivation of some root crops, peanuts, beans, Chinese cabbage, Bananas, Pawpaw and taro.
A local French resident gave us four rabbits, two does and two bucks. In a similar fashion to the chicken pens the prisoners made enclosed outside pens with small bamboo hutches to house the rabbits.
We began breeding them and ended up with another source of non-fat protein.
The prisoners learned new gardening and animal husbandry techniques while adding to their daily dietary needs.
The litter from the chicken pens and the rabbit droppings were all mixed into the soil to provide an organic, nutrient rich composition beneficial for crop growing.
Dried grass was used to create mulch and this meant little water was needed for the lettuces and other leaf vegetables.
The initiative in starting the prison garden was a huge success and the only disadvantage was none of the prisoners wanted to go home to their villages after completing their sentences.
I hope this story might serve as an incentive to rural communities in the Solomons who have been hesitant to make a start with a gardening project due to a lack of money.
It can be done as my story proves.
Collectively, I am confident that our rural people have the inherent, talents and skills to make a go of something similar.
Former police commissioner