Ladybirds and worms help Cooks children fight obesity
High school students in the Cook Islands are getting ready to grow their own vegetables in an effort to reduce soaring obesity levels.
Ladybirds and earth worms are playing a role in helping children in the Cook Islands beat obesity.
High schools on Rarotonga are taking part in a New Zealand Aid-funded project run by Auckland University's Liggins Institute which is teaching children how to grow vegetables without the need for expensive chemicals and fertilisers.
An ecologist with the project, Steve Wratten, told Sally Round he's been showing students that growing healthy food can be interesting.
STEVE WRATTEN: We also started looking at teaching kids about these things called natures services and it sounds trivial but we actually went to the school grounds and dug up earth worms, which those kids had never seen actually, and these were endemic Cook Islands earth worms and then we worked out using a simple method what the economic value of an earth worm is and you can actually attach dollars to earth worms, per worm or per kilogram or something. Then we went on to try to instill growing food, vegetables mainly in the school grounds in the hope that the kids could take back seedlings with these things and plant them around their house and that would be one of our visions. We also met some local growers, including organic ones and they were really keen to try to boost fresh food production in those islands. At the moment 15 percent of the fruits and vegetables that those people need in their diet are provided locally and the remaining 85 percent come in on aeroplanes and are a ridiculously high cost so they don't pay for those, they go and buy less quality foods from the supermarket which often are high in sugars and fats. It's worth remembering also that 2 billion people in the world grow their own food and trade it within the family and with their neighbours - that's 500,000 families so we should remember that growing your own healthy food is not a fad and not for mad gardeners.
SALLY ROUND: Are you seeing things develop, are people actually taking on the message and starting to grow their own food again?
SW: The key thing is we're waiting for the third curriculum, the third semester, and that's where the teaching in the classroom is going to start with these methods. We sent a large number of what we call binocular microscopes to the Cooks and some are going to Tonga as well. And we also sent some kits, little kits where you can measure the quality of soil to see if we're improving it. So the understanding of the soil and the insects and other creepy crawlies that live in it, is the beginning of them starting to grow food in that environment. Not one cabbage has been planted yet I should tell you but I think semester three when raised beds will be put into place in the school grounds, that's when the first plant will go in the ground.
SR: And you're hoping obviously that this is going to be passed back into the family as well, not just a project within the school but taken back in to the home.
SW: We'd like this initiative in the schools to be enjoyed and that type of farming is enjoyable, it's quite exciting if you encourage bees or ladybirds into the crop, it's much more exciting than just digging and planting. So we hope that initiative will go from the schools to the families. And already we have the ministry of education behind us and we have some key farmers behind us so that's our goal. And what I mustn't do is become like a parachuting consultant, dropping in for 10 days, tell them what to do, and then go home - that would be just ridiculous. If it takes time it takes time but we can't parachute in and tell them what to do.
To embed this content on your own webpage, cut and paste the following: