Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Taro Farming


I am now in the agricultural phase of my Peace Corps adventure. It may be difficult for those who read this blog to grasp that most of the world lives on family farms which not only produce the food they eat, but also is the primary source of the family’s cash. These farms vary little from one part of the world to another with the exception of the crops they grow. In Samoa the main food and cash crop is taro. We live with such a family.

Taro is extremely nutritious. It has nineteen times the food value of potatoes. When compared to polished white rice, it wins by a mile. Imported white rice and wheat flour are slowly replacing taro as food stables. These items are faster and easier to cook. They can be stored for long periods when compared to taro. Yet, Samoans still love taro. It is easily sold in markets and roadside stands.

In theory growing taro is easy. First you clear away the existing jungle. Then you simply take the leaves from a harvested plant, dig a small hole, stick the leaves in the hole, wait 5-10 months and dig up the new taro. No need to cultivate before planting. You can add a fertilizer pellet and spray with a weed killer to speed up the growth rate. Different species of taro can be interspersed to provide a continuous crop throughout the year. The perimeter of the taro field can be used to grow vegetables that do not require constant watering like cucumbers, eggplant or tomatoes.

Despite the ease of growing taro, taro production keeps dropping. There are hundreds of acres of fallow taro fields that have been overgrown by the jungle. To me, the main reason for this drop is lack of sustainable manpower. Talented people who used to work and stay on the farms are being siphoned away to school and then to salaried jobs to provide the family with cash. Samoans tend to blame lazy young people who stay behind in the village for not working the fields. Certainly some of these do exist. What is happening in Samoa is happening to small family farms around the world as the serendipitous winds of change blow people into waters not of their world.

How to Grow Taro

First Start with Some Jungle

Get a Good Woman with a Knife

Clear a Field. Stick Taro Leaves in Ground.

Examine Your Work. Wait Five Months Till Harvest.

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