In a major advancement in the engagement of ni Vanuatu women in agricultural research and training, a special women-only ‘farmer to farmer knowledge transfer’ alongside the Master TreeGrower Course has been conducted on the West Coast Malo Island with 18 ni Vanuatu women recently.

Dr Cherise Addinsall and Votausi Mackenzie co-ordinated the resources of three Australian Centre for International Agriculture Research (ACIAR) projects to bring together ni Vanuatu women from East Coast Santo, Efate and West Malo, for a week of training and knowledge sharing on West Malo.

Using the Master TreeGrower (MTG) training model developed by the Australian Agroforestry Foundation, the course explored how trees on farms support livelihoods and lifestyles, whilst also improving environmental outcomes. “I was so impressed by the variety of trees on the Malo farms and the wide range of values they provide, particularly for women”, said Rowan Reid of the Australian Agroforestry Foundation.

It was the first time that the MTG training model had be applied to women only as part of a piloting component of the ACIAR project “Enhancing returns from high-value agroforestry species in Vanuatu”, which reflects ACIAR’s focus on improving the livelihoods of rural farming households and engagement of women in Vanuatu.

A key component of the training was the farmer-to-farmer information exchange between the East Coast Santo women from The Bisnis Blong Buluk (BBB) women’s group and the Malo womens group.

The BBB women’s group was established by Norah Rihai, Antoinette Nassee, and Dr. Cherise Addinsall in 2017 to increase the capacity of female farmers from the ACIAR Project “Increasing the productivity and market options of smallholder beef cattle farmers in Vanuatu”.

The BBB women’s group presented training on fertility techniques such as composting and mulching and household and farm financial management.

Norah Rihai from the Vanuatu Agriculture College explained, “This is the first time the BBB women’s group have been trainers. I’m so proud of how confident and empowered they were teaching these skills to the women from Malo. The farmer to farmer strategy with rural Ni Vanuatu women is an innovative strategy for Vanuatu that has showed profound results in the abilities of these women in such a short time”.

The reaction from the Malo women was very positive: “Seeing the BBB women’s group teach us these skills makes us think that if they can learn these skills then we can too, because they are just like us”.

Dr Cherise Addinsall explained “It is vital for agricultural research and development projects to accommodate for the needs of rural Ni Vanuatu women and understand the limitations they experience due to cultural and gender related issues.”

The course also involved more conventional training in the collection, processing and marketing of Nangai led by Elektra Grant and Votausi Mackenzie (Lapita Café) from the ACIAR project “Enhancing value added products and environmental benefits from agroforestry systems in the Pacific”.

The women learnt grafting and layering techniques from Marie Andre, Joseph and Mesek Sephy. Anne-Marie Sarisets of the Vanuatu Forests Department led discussions on seed collection, nursery practices and agroforestry planting designs and Brenda Andre translated the technical information to the women.

In a very emotional speech at the closing of the week, Votausi Mackenzie explained to the women how grateful she was to the ACIAR projects for supporting the week of training to have taken place on her home island and gave a special thanks to West Malo for hosting the event: “As a local female entrepreneur I can see the value in this strategy of supporting female farmer to farmer exchange put forward by ACIAR and I hope that this work will continue as part of ACIAR’s commitment to engaging Ni Vanuatu women, Votausi said then continued, “As women we now have an obligation to share the valuable information we have learnt this week to improve opportunities for all rural women”.

Linking farmers to high quality markets for their tree products, strengthening connections between agriculture and tourism, and diversifying farming practices, all help improve the livelihoods of rural households whilst also protecting the environment. The fact that most women farmers will learn these practices from other women highlights the importance of agricultural projects conducting women-only training programs.