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close this book Agroforestry in the Pacific Islands: Systems for Sustainability (1993)
close this folder 4 Agroforestry in Melanesia: Case-studies from Vanuatu and Fiji
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View the document Fijian agroforestry at Namosi and Matainasau
View the document A listing of agroforestry components in the landscapes of Namosi and Matainasau

Fijian agroforestry at Namosi and Matainasau

Fijian agroforestry at Namosi and Matainasau

Namosi and Matainasau villages are located in the interior wet zone of Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, some 56 and 95 km respectively from the capital of Suva. The village lands extend from elevations of about 150 to 1,000 metres, with much of the land in slopes steeper than 50 per cent. Rainfall ranges from 250 to 500 cm per year, although it can be as high as 900 cm. Both villages are situated on major rivers, Namosi on the upper Waidina River and Matainasau on the Wainimala River. Both have access to sizeable areas of alluvial land and extensive areas of more mountainous agricultural and forest land. The humic latosols that predominate in the upland areas are characterized by stony clay, stony sandy clay, and stony silt to 60 cm in depth. Although prone to erosion, these soils have relatively high fertility and are particularly suited for short-term root cropping, yaqona (kava) production, or long-term tree cropping. The alluvial sandy loams and sandy soils of the alluvial flats and colluvial areas have relatively high fertility when drained (Groom and Associates 1981).

In the early 1980s, it was estimated that there were some 45 households in Namosi, with a total population of approximately 250 (Rizer et al. 1982). The population of Matainasau is slightly less, with some 30 households in the mid1980s.

Cultural importance of trees and forests

The Fijian term for land, vanua, "has physical, social and cultural dimensions which are interrelated" (Ravuvu 1983, 70). These include the vegetation and animal life as well as the social and cultural system. It follows that all trees on a community's land are seen to be integral to the whole agricultural system and to human welfare. In this context, the major agroforestry land-use zones would include:

  1. the village site (koro);
  2. the areas surrounding the village (bill ni koro);
  3. the agricultural lands (qele ni teitei), including active gardens (vei were) and fallow areas (raki) on the alluvial flats (buca);
  4. agricultural lands (qele ni teitei), including active gardens (vei were) and associated fallow areas (raki) on rolling colluvial and mountain soils of the uplands (vei delana);
  5. secondary forest areas (veikau) on both alluvial flat and upland areas;
  6. dense primary forest (lekutu or veikau loa);
  7. scattered fenced beef-cattle pastures (loma ni ba or ba ni bulumakau); and
  8. river bank or riparian areas (bati ni wad).

During R. Thaman's in-depth field studies of the agroforestry systems of Namosi and Matainasau, conducted from 1979 to 1988, over 100 trees or tree-like species or cultivars were encountered. Most of these were in existing agricultural areas, rather than in surrounding primary forest stands, although some of the forest species are occasionally found as protected individuals in recently cleared upland garden sites. In keeping with the vanua concept, veikau, or forest, areas are seen by Fijians as integral components of the wider land-use system, and were generally used by the entire community, regardless of the more restrictive clan (mataqali) affiliations required to obtain access to agricultural lands. Forest areas supply materials for construction and firewood and provide a domain for hunting and foraging. Although the pressure for commercial logging in such areas has made communal use of forest lands more restrictive, access to more distant forest areas is still very much open, as long as a member of the community is extracting resources for personal or communal use, rather than for commercial purposes (Ravuvu 1983,74).

Important cultigens

The most common cultigens are bananas and plantains (Musa cultivars), kava, or yaqona (Piper methysticum), hibiscus (Hibiscus manihot), Citrus species, breadfruit (Artocarpus altilis), duruka (Saccharum edule), sugar cane, papaya, coconut, Malay or mountain apple (Syzygium malaccense), Polynesian viapple (Spondias dulcis), soursop (Annona muricata), vutu kana (Barringtonia edulis), guava (Psidium gunjava), cocoa (Theabroma cacao), jakfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), two palms (Veitchia joannis and Pritchardia pacifica), now found more often growing wild, and waciwaci (Sterculia vitiensis). All are commonly planted or protected in active garden areas, fallow areas, and in tree groves around villages, although, as Ravuvu (1983, 73) reports, they are "usually grown in small patches away from the land used for root crops." The mango and the avocado are found infrequently because they seem to bear few fruit in wet inland areas, but are common, especially the mango, in drier coastal agri cultural areas. Although still present, Veitchia joannis, Pritchardia pacifica, and Sterculia vitiensis were all more common in the past.

In active garden areas, these species are generally found interspersed with the dominant staple food crops in both upland and alluvial lowland and river terrace gardens, as well as remaining there throughout fallow periods, which traditionally ranged from 5 to 15 years, with cropping periods of 2-7 years. Correspondingly longer cropping periods and shorter fallow periods are characteristic on the richer alluvial and colluvial soils nearer the villages. Although burning of debris cleared from new garden patches is practiced widely in Fiji, including Namosi, the practice has been traditionally discouraged at Matainasau because it was believed to have deleterious effects on soil and arboreal regeneration.

In the upland garden areas, taro and cassava are the dominant ground crops. Taro is generally planted after clearing and is intercropped with kava as a co-dominant crop. Cassava is planted next, sometimes up to three or more times in succession. Less common crops or intercrops in these gardens include yams (Dioscorea alata), wild yams (D. nummularia) (which are both cultivated and grow wild in fallow and secondary forest areas), tannia (Xanthosoma sagittifolium), giant taro (Alocasia macrorrhiza), and giant swamp taro (Cyrtosperma chamissonis), which is occasionally found growing wild, although probably originally planted, along small streams and poorlydrained areas bordering the garden areas. One factor responsible for decreasing fallow periods and increasing cropping periods and associated agrodeforestation has been the propensity of Fijians to abandon more labourintensive traditional crops, such as yams and taro, in favour of cassava, which is less often intercropped and which requires little or no fallow between successive plantings (Thaman and Thomas 1982, 1985).

The same crops are also found in alluvial soils, although kava is less commonly planted there; sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas) grow particularly well in sandy alluvial soils. Some non-traditional vegetables and fruits, such as Chinese cabbage (Brassica chinensis), tomatoes, long beans (Vigna sequipedalis), corn (Zea mays), and eggplant (Solanum melongena), are increasingly intercropped between staple root crops during the early stages of gardens, particularly on the alluvial flats near villages, where water for shortterm seed crops is readily available. Pineapple (Ananas comosus) is also increasingly common.

Of the tree crops, banana and plantain cultivars are probably of greatest economic and subsistence importance, with a range of plantain (vudi) cultivars (Musa AAB Group) found in most gardens as an important staple. Vudi cultivars scattered throughout garden areas may cover as much as 5 per cent of total food-crop area. As perennials, plantains can continue bearing without replanting for 10 years or more if kept free of diseases and weeds.

The common banana of commerce, the Musa AAA Group, which was formerly an important export crop in both the Matainasau and Namosi areas, is still common in gardens, especially on alluvial and colluvial soils. It remains an important local cash crop in Matainasau village. Although bananas are susceptible to black-leaf-streak fungal and bunchy-top viral diseases, the wide dispersal of banana plants and their intercropping with other species controls damage from these diseases, which proved to be the death knell of banana monocropping for export to New Zealand and Japan in the mid-1960s. Other banana cultivars include the liga ni marama, or lady's finger, banana (Musa AAB Group), the bata, or blue Java plantain (Musa ABB Group), and the vinvialevu or qamure (an uncommon plantain cultivar). Musa fehi, the wild banana, which is occasionally cultivated now, was more widely cultivated in the past; it remains as a relict here and there in old secondary vegetation.

Piper methysticum, a tree-like shrub known widely in the Pacific as kava (yaqana in Fijian), is currently the most important cash crop in both Namosi and Matainasau. It is planted as a monocrop but more commonly intercropped with taro (Colocasia esculenta) and other crops, which are harvested first, leaving the kava to mature over its 4-7year optimum yield cycle. Because kava cultivation has been newly extended into more-distant upland areas with the spread of road transport, the new gardens often have fewer deliberately planted cultivated trees than is the case in the more traditional garden areas closer to the villages. As with bananas, there is considerable intraspecies diversity, with at least six recognized kava cultivars in the Namosi area. Being relatively shade resistant, small plantings of kava are commonly found in tree-dominated gardens near settlements.

Although more a shrub than a tree, vauvau, bele, or hibiscus spinach (Hibiscus manihot) is a perennial that, under good conditions, can grow to over 3 metres in height. Along with taro-leaf spinach and many wild ferns, which are found throughout garden and fallow areas, bele is one of the main green vegetables of Namosi and Matainasau villages. It is reportedly one of the most nutritious green vegetables, being very high in vitamins A and C and in iron, and having 12 per cent protein by dry weight (Standal et al. 1974), which makes it a valuable food in interior villages where animal protein is scarce. It is easily propagated from cuttings, requires little cultivation, is relatively disease-resistant, and people like it as a vegetable and also consider it to have medicinal value. Planted along borders of gardens or as an intercrop throughout gardens, it yields a valuable food for a long time.

The wide range of Citrus species cultivated and protected as volunteers throughout garden and fallow areas and around villages are a major economic resource in Namosi, which is renowned for its mold (known in the local dialect as soco), or oranges. The fruits produced include the sweet orange, or mold Taiti, literally Tahitian orange (C. sinensis), and the mandarin orange, or mold madarini (C. reticulata), which are sold in thousands at the Suva Municipal Market (Thaman 1976177) and provide a major seasonal source of cash as well as a very nutritious snack food. The rough lemon, or moli karokaro (C. hystrix), is also common, especially in fallow areas, and is widely used to marinade raw fish or squeezed on a wide range of foods, as well as constituting one of the main ingredients, along with coconut cream, chillies, onions, and salt, of the sauce known as mitt. The young leaves are also used to make tea (drau ni molt). The sour orange, or mold hula (C. aurantium), the kalamantsi, or mold witiwiti (C. micro-arpa), and the pomelo, shaddock, or mold kana (C. grandis), are also commonly cultivated or protected for use in drinks, for squeezing on food, and, in the case of the sour orange, for eating and occasional selling at the market.

The coconut and the breadfruit, although common in garden areas and around villages, especially on the alluvial flats, are not as dominant as in coastal areas. Nevertheless, the coconut remains a very important supplementary staple. The cream expressed from the flesh of the endosperm of mature nuts is widely used in cooking, the green nuts for drinking, and the mature nuts are commonly fed to poultry and pigs. Similarly, breadfruit constitutes an important seasonal staple. Both trees, but especially the coconut, have many non-food uses, and the coconut, the Pacific's "tree of life," is an excellent arboreal intercrop because of its small crown structure. At least five cultivars of coconut and three of breadfruit are recognized in Namosi. Two other palms with edible seeds and useful fronds, Veitchia joannis and Pritchardia pacifica, are found occasionally, often growing wild, but reportedly were planted more widely in the past.

Unlike commercial sugar cane cultivation, where the entire crop is taken at each harvest, the many traditional, aboriginally-introduced cultivars of cane are kept in tree-like clumps and continually harvested to chew as an energy-rich snack food. Functionally, sugar cane, which is widespread in most gardens, constitutes an important "agroforestry" species. The closely related duraka (Saccharum edule), known locally as "Fiji asparagus," provides an edible inflorescence and is found in a cultivated or almost wild state throughout garden areas, especially in poorly drained alluvial sites. In Namosi, where it is an important seasonal food and source of cash income, some nine cultivars are recognized.

Also of considerable economic and subsistence importance is a range of other traditional and more recently introduced fruit-trees, found planted or protected. Traditional - possibly aboriginally introduced- trees that provide seasonal flushes of fruit for consumption and sale include the kovika, or Malay or mountain apple (Syzygium malaccense), the wi, Polynesian vi-apple or hog plum (Spondias dulcis), and the vutu kana (Barringtonia edulis). Of the recent introductions, papaya (Carica papaya) is particularly common and an excellent non-seasonal vitamin- and mineral-rich fruit; seremaia, or soursop (Annona muricata), is common in gardens and around villages; and the uto ni Idia, or jakfruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus), is increasingly common. Guava is an important seasonal fruit; it is generally found growing wild, especially where livestock have been grazed, but is occasionally planted or protected in gardens or village areas. The mango, which is believed to be a post-European introduction to Fiji, and the avocado are only occasionally found and bear little fruit in the cold, wet conditions of Namosi and Matainasau.

Senile experimental plantings of cocoa (Theobroma cacoo) and coffee are found at Namosi, with scattered trees found at Matainasau. No cocoa or coffee is produced, although the ripe cocoa fruit pulp is consumed as a snack food and occasionally sold. Cocoa is, however, an increasingly important commercial crop in some areas, such as the nearby Wainibuka River valley, and does offer some prospect for agroforestry cash cropping.

Of cultural importance are a number of cultivated non-food plants. Voivoi, or pandanus (Pandanus spp.), of which there is a range of cultivars, is used in the production of plaited ware such as ceremonial mats, rough mats, baskets, and hats; the many cultivars of the ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa) are used as ornamentals in villages and to provide the most commonly used leaves in traditional dance costumes.

The bright red cultivars are planted as `'protective" plants in gardens to ward off evil spirits and to ensure good yields, while the larger darkgreen variety, vasili ni Toga, was formerly an important famine food and source of sugar from the root, which was baked in an earthen oven for four days. Other non-food plants include panax (Polyscias spp.), a common ornamental hedge, living fence, boundary marker, and ornamental plant of medicinal value, which is commonly planted in villages and occasionally in gardens; kalabuci (Acalypha wilkesiana), also a common ornamental and hedge plant; bua ni Vavalagi, or frangipani (Plumeria spp.), widely planted in and around villages as an ornamental and for the use of its fragrant flowers in garlands; banidaki, wiriwiri, or physic nut (Jatropha curcas), has medicinal value and is planted as living fencing; vauvau, vauvau ni Vavalagi, or kapok (Ceiba pentandra), is occasionally planted around villages as a source of fibre to fill mattresses and pillows; uci (Euodia hortensis), a shrub of medicinal value with pungent flowers and leaves used in garlands and to scent coconut oil, is commonly planted in villages and occasionally in garden areas; vasa damu (Euphorbia fidjiana), an attractive rust-redcoloured tree-like shrub, is planted as a protective plant to ward off evil spirits and to ensure good yields; and sago palm (Metroxylon vitiense) provides a favoured thatching for roofs. Other shrubby ornamentals commonly planted in and around villages are Dracaena fragrans, Bougainvillea spp., Pseuderanthemum curruthersii, P. bicolor, and Groptophyllum pictum.

Non-cultigens

Non-cultivated or self-sown food trees such as the oceanic Iychee (Pometia pinnata), Tahitian chestnut (Inocarpus fagifer), Ficus vitiensis, the beach or Indian almond (Terminalia catappa), Adenanthera pavonina, Elaeocarpus chelonimorphus, and sukau (Gnetum gnemon) are also commonly protected in garden areas, around villages, and in forest stands. Other less commonly used wild food sources, which were reportedly more widely used in the past, include vava (Heliconia indica), the flower bracts of which are baked or roasted; losilosi (Ficus barclayana), the leaves and fruit of which are eaten and used medicinally; and waciwaci (Sterculia vitiensis), the edible seeds of which were roasted or fried in the past over open fires.

Of almost tantamount economic, ecological, and cultural importance to the many cultivated and wild food trees and the cultivated non-food trees is the host of other useful non-cultivated species that are commonly found, often as dominants, in agroforestry areas. These trees provide timber, fuel wood, medicines, fibre, perfumes, and dyes; they also give shade, control erosion, improve soil, offer habitats to wildlife, and may have considerable spiritual importance. These and other uses are specified in the final section of this chapter. In terms of medicinal importance, for example, field surveys and Weiner's (1984) study of Fijian medicinal plants indicate that almost 50 per cent (47 of 101) of the plants listed in this chapter's final section have some medicinal use.

Most of the non-cultivated agroforestry species are indigenous and some are endemic. Others such as Bischofia javanica, Hibiscus tiliaceus, Canangaa odorata, and Aleurites moluccana may be aboriginal introductions. Although most are generally found growing naturally, some - such as Hibiscus tiliaceus, Erythrina variegata, Premna obtusifolia, and Dillenia biflora- are commonly planted as living fencing, and others - such as Parinari glaberrima and Cananga odorata, which are particularly valued- are commonly planted around villages. Trees that are sacred totems, or i cavuti, of the various descent groups (mataqali) of Namosi include mako (Cyathocalyx vitiensis), bua (Fagraea berteriana), bitu (Schizastachyam glaucifolium), and niu, the coconut (Cocos nucifera).

Exotic trees of widespread agroforestry importance include yaqona ni Onolulu (Honolulu), Onolulu, or qonaqona (Piper aduncum); bitu ni Vavalagi, or common bamboo (Bambusa vulgaris); and two species referred to as vaivai ni Vavalagi (literally, foreign vaivai), leucaena (Leucaena leucocephala) and the rain tree, or monkey-pod (Samanea saman). Piper aduncum is a weedy large shrub to small tree abundant throughout garden and fallow areas, often being coppiced as a readily available source of fuel wood from active garden areas. Bambusa vulgaris is occasionally cultivated, but is usually found wild and protected in large stands on the alluvial flats and occasionally in upland garden areas to provide a ready source for construction materials of wide utility, including bamboo rafts, or bilibili, which were a main means of transporting agricultural produce before road access to urban markets became available in the past 10 years or so, and to provide a ready source of fuel, especially on rainy days, when other sources of fuel are wet. Leucaena leucocephala is locally important, especially in grazing areas, and is commonly used for fencing and construction of pig pens and as a source of firewood and fodder. Samanea saman is commonly planted or protected around villages or in grazing areas as a shade tree, and is particularly common on the alluvial garden flats near Matainasau, where it is an important source of timber, fuel wood, and wood for carving.

Importance of wild foodstuffs

Also of importance to inland Fijian villages is the great diversity of nonarboreal wild plant and animal foodstuffs, medicines, and other useful products found within the matrix of the agroforestry system in active garden areas, fallow vegetation, and secondary forests, in primary forests bordering active agricultural areas, and in or along streams that border or flow through agroforestry areas and that, if agrodeforestation continues, will be considerably impoverished (Thaman 1982b).

Most notable among the non-arboreal wild foodstuffs is an almost baffling diversity of wild yams, the most important species being Dioscorea nummularia, D. pentaphylla, and D. bulbifera, and ferns, mostly referred to as wata or ota, the most commonly consumed species being Athyrium spp., Diplazium spp., Tectaria latifolia, Stenochlaena palustris, and Marattia smithii. Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum); sou (Solanum repandum); moca, tubua, or spleen amaranth (Amaranthus viridis); wild chill) peppers (Capsicum frutescens); kosopeli, or cape gooseberry (Physalis angulata); inoka, or kudzu root (Pueraria lobata), and a diversity of daliga, or fungi, that are commonly found on dead trees, are all common wild foods from agroforestry areas. It is estimated that these more common species, together with less important species and the previously mentioned tree or tree-like sources of wild food products, number over 60 in the Namosi area alone. When the wide range of edible birds, frogs, snakes, grubs, insects, fishes, eels, freshwater prawns, and other foods that are found within agroforestry zones is included, the significance of wild food resources to mountain villages becomes obvious. Moreover, apart from being nutritionally important - particularly in the cases of some seasonally abundant fruits, nuts, wild yams, and wild greens - these wild products also constitute important low-capitalinput, low-risk cash "crops" for seasonal sale at the Suva Municipal Market (Thaman 1976/77).

Importance of village tree groves

Also of agroforestry significance are the relatively dense groves of mature trees found around the boundaries of villages. These groves, which are present at Namosi and some other villages in Fiji, include a wide range of cultivated trees of high utility and easy accessibility. Important species are sweet oranges, mandarin oranges, rough lemon, breadfruit, jakfruit, coconut, bananas and plantains, Tahitian chestnut (Inocarpus fagifer), oceanic lychee (Pometia pinnate), coral tree (Erythrina variegate), and Cordyline terminalis, along with other trees of medicinal or spiritual importance, such as those used in ceremonial garlands or for scenting coconut oil.

Pressures toward agrodeforestation

Over 100 trees or tree-like species are found in the agroforestry systems of Namosi and Matainasau villages; collectively they represent a resource of enormous economic, cultural, and ecological importance. These trees, along with the many other species found in surrounding forest stands, have been preserved as part of an integral agroforestry system for generations but are almost totally neglected by most present-day agricultural developers and researchers. Consequently, although the agroforestry systems of both villages remain relatively intact, recent pressures to encourage cash cropping of bananas, cocoa, Lava, and root crops, and to develop commercial livestock grazing, have led to deforestation and agrodeforestation. The new generation of farmers, which has not been educated to see the long-term utility of integrated agroforestry, neglects the trees. As an example of the richness and diversity of this agroforestry resource, table 5 in the final section of this chapter lists the important agroforest trees and some tree-like plants recorded in the landscapes of Namosi and Matainasau villages and provides a brief description of their uses and significance. Lack of space prohibits the presentation in this book of the similar sort of information available for all the Pacific Island regions discussed here, but an aggregate listing of 100 important agroforest species is offered in the Appendix.