For about six months, I have been going to the local vegetable roadside vegetable sellers collecting their waste for use as green manure or compost on my garden. I go almost every day and am constantly amazed by the amount of “waste” I collect. There is constant talk in Fiji in the media about working towards what they call “Food Security” which is a term used by politicians and local agriculture experts. Loosely speaking, what they are aiming for is for Fiji to be able to eventually produce all of its own food requirements locally without having to import food, and without poverty.
The figures and statistics are always saying that there are up to 40% of Fijians living below the poverty line. Up to 40% of mothers with anaemia, a high infant mortality rate, diabetes that is endemic with Fiji having the highest rate per capita in the world of amputations from diabetes related infections. How is it possible? From a small market place of approximately 8 “table vendors” (where they have a table with piles of produce to sell) each day I collect approximately 10 large hessian bags of “waste”. Much of the waste is actually fresh food that is either bent or in some other way not perfect enough to be bought. I was in the habit of making huge piles of the waste, and then digging it in to produce a permaculture garden, with whatever happened to sprout.
Last year from this method, we ate (without one seed or any fertilizer being bought):tomatoes, motha, bele, rourou (dalo or taro leaves), cucumber, chilli, corn by the bucket load, eggplant, banana, pumpkins galore, long beans, bora beans, bitter gourd, and much more. Where I have harvested those crops, I now have a large and very tall cassava plantation, flowers, more corn and beans, and a massive pineapple plantation, plus rosella, more pumpkins, more eggplant and cucumbers, pawpaws etc.
Anyway, long story short, I had so much good food being given to me that I was forced to sort it, and use in the kitchen what was still good. Consequently, we have a very varied diet of fresh vegetables and fruit with often an embarrassingly full freezer of beans, pawpaw, banana, eggplant, mango, cassava, and I make jars of jam and chutney, pancakes and gulab jamen with what I can’t freeze and give it away.
Even that wasn’t enough to ease the burden of so much fresh food that was otherwise literally going to rot, so I decided to buy two piglets – now known as Piggy and Peggy when they are good (and sometimes Minky and Monkey when they misbehave). Our little pig house is down a gully.
Normally, when pigs are moved in Fiji, they are tied with rope by the hind legs and dragged. This causes a lot of distress to the animals, and the thought of my husband dragging a fully grown pig by the legs up a 6 metre gully didn’t bear thinking about. Animal rights is not a big thing in Fiji – perhaps humans are still trying to get a grasp on their own rights. Animals are often neglected whether they are farm animals or domestic animals.
There is also a perception that processed food is “better” for the animals, or perhaps it is a sign of status to be able to afford processed food. When I first started getting the surplus of good food from the waste, I offered some to a relative who had a pig. I was told “thanks, but no thanks – we can afford to buy pig food”. I was dismayed at this, as their poor pig was almost starving sometimes, and my relative is a farm hand, with a family of four kids who takes home about $100 a week. In reality, they seem not to be able to afford a lot of things, so I was surprised that they did not want to share my scraps. Even during the eight months that we lived across the street from each other, not once did they take any for the pigs.
To save myself and the little four week old piglets the trauma of being hog tied and dragged at a later date, I decided very early on to let them out for a run in the mornings.
I figured it was going to be better all round if the pigs come when they are called…and thought I would give it a try “Babe” style.
They loved it so much, and they look forward to it so much that now they come out in the mornings, afternoons, and any other time if I am alone and want some piggy company. It is great to see them in their natural behaviour patterns – they dig in the compost, find any puddle and wallow in it (or make a puddle themselves). They love to interact with the cats, and have learned that they are not allowed on the verandah areas, or in the house (although Peggy has snuck in a couple of times!).
If I have to go for a walk to pick some extra bele for them, they will often come too, much to the amusement of the Uni Students who mock me incessantly calling “Piggy, Peggy” and sniggering. I am not sure that they have ever seen free range pigs. The only animals that seem to free range are the packs of stray scavenging dogs.
The pigs are now a few months old, and growing fast. When they run, they are surprisingly fast. My husband, who at first thought I was more than half mad, has now taken the pigs under his wing, and spends ages with them. Whenever people come over, he wants me to let the pigs out as some kind of circus curio show. In a couple of months, the pigs will be ready to have piglets. I am thinking about whether the piglets will follow their mum up the steps and around the garden. I am fairly sure they will, and look forward to that exciting event.
This is the first time that I have ever kept pigs, and it is a delight, although a very big time commitment to clean their pen twice a day, get their food, sort it and cook it. Their favourite food is pawpaw, but they hate banana. Who knew? They love cassava, but hate pumpkin. They eat only the seeds of the cucumber but not the flesh. Every morning, they get fresh grass to eat, and then make it into a nest for their day time nap. About 3pm in the afternoon, they start calling to be let out, and as soon as the gate is open they barrel up the steps at a million miles an hour and then race around the yard to their favourite spots for an update on what might be available. They they settle down to snuffling in the ground looking for worms and other tidbits, race around the house and move to another spot. The kids have taken over the cleaning of the pig pen (phew! great news for me!) and my husband now cooks their food. When their pen is clean, their food and water replenished and all is ready for their bed time, we call “Piggy, Peggy” and start walking down the steps and they follow (not always the first time). The pigs are actually so well fed, that they have become fussy with their food – I keep telling them that I have seen other pigs in this country forced to eat their own shit, and that they are very lucky, but I think their vocabulary is not quite up to that yet. Perhaps I shall make some flash cards.
I have to tell you though that sometimes they are a bit naughty, and sneak away from me when we go for a walk, always about 5 paces ahead of me. They go from neighbour to neighbour and sniff around the yards. Sometimes they go and visit Nobbit, a lovely dog with only three good legs. This is always a bit of fun, as Nobbit is often asleep on the porch, and when he notices the pigs and gives a little bark, they scoot off as quickly as they can, but always go back for more. Sometimes I have to borrow bread or crackers from the neighbours and entice them back home, sweating and frustrated, and hoping that my husband never finds out! It always makes a good story, so I end up telling him anyway – never have been good at keeping secrets!
Perhaps I will be the first “free range” pig farmer in Fiji?