NMI agriculture, post-Yutu

WHEN the Non-Communicable Disease Strategic Planning Workshop met in a packed conference hall last summer, the meeting’s multi-faceted attendees pinpointed access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables as one of the most important factors in fighting the CNMI’s diabetes and hypertension epidemic.

They formed a Nutrition Council or NC, which wasted no time in developing and rolling out a pilot program which would use the Division of Agriculture’s stockpile of seedlings to create over 100 community and backyard gardens across the CNMI. Participants were identified, and the NC even prepared growers to compete for the most fruitful garden.

Then Yutu hit. The Division of Agriculture’s facility sustained major damage, and all of the seedlings were destroyed.

“We need to recover…, replant those seedlings and redistribute them out to our participants,� said Walter Macaranas, chairperson of the Nutrition Council. “And we have not been able to reach out to them at this point to know what stage they were at before the storm and what their status is at this point.�

Of course, the Nutrition Council isn’t the only organization missing out on a potential harvest because of Yutu; Leroy Pangelinan, manager of Garapan Public Market, said that he lost all of his produce after the storm knocked out the power in Garapan.

“I lost a lot of vegetables, frozen food, processed food — man, I lost thousands,� he told Variety. Knowing it would all go to waste in the heat, Pangelinan gave much of his stock away.

“Some I donated to CHCC, some I donated to the Hyatt. Some I donated to the military.�

Reopening the public market came down to the farmers supplying more produce, most of which was destroyed in the storm.

And according to Dr. Ignacio Dela Cruz, acting Division of Agriculture director, said the CNMI’s crops weren’t in great shape even before Yutu. 

“They were already damaged by Mangkhut,� he said. “And then about a month and a half later, Yutu came over and finished the job.�

He said the sole survivors of this year’s typhoon season were root crops like taro and tapioca.

Jack Ogumoro, vice president of the CNMI Farmers Cooperative Association, said that his Kagman farm and the 7-8 farms nearby were all damaged by the Yutu’s wind and rain, then suffered further when their electrical irrigation systems went without power for weeks.

He and Dela Cruz agreed that there is very little farmers can do to protect their crops from major typhoons like those that made landfall this year.

“The only thing we encourage farmers to do is get some crop insurance,� said Dela Cruz.

Ogumoro toyed with taking a page out of President Trump’s playbook:

“Maybe we could build a wall around the entire CNMI,� he joked.

Fortunately, Dela Cruz says that many farms are already harvesting fast-growing crops like cucumbers, leafy vegetables, and string beans, which only take 30-45 days to produce after planting. Other crops, however, are sure to take longer to come back.

“Some of our coconuts have been decimated,� Dela Cruz said. “And it will take our banana plants maybe a year.�

Still, Dela Cruz remains hopeful that Saipan will have mostly bounced back by this year’s agricultural fair, which is scheduled for sometime in May or June.

Garapan Public Market reopened on Dec. 6. Its shelves still aren’t fully stocked, but some fresh local produce is available.

“Now we have okra, string beans, pechay, cucumber, and taro from Rota,� said Pangelinan. He believes that in time, the public market will make a full recovery.

As for Macaranas, he says that for now, the Nutrition Council will have to reassess their available supplies and come up with a new timeline to resume their pilot project. He also insisted that the Nutrition Council has every intention of moving forward with their project, even if it means starting over.

“The overall goal is to improve the health of the CNMI and this garden project touches upon physical activity through planting and harvesting…it offers nutritional value to the community and to the household. And there’s also a financial value by not having to purchase the fruits and vegetables they can grow in their backyard,â€� he said. 

“We’ve invested a lot of time and energy into this project, and it still can be accomplished,� he said. “We’re not going to give up.�

Source: Marianas Variety :

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