Final report for WSP19-028
The Western Region Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) will work collaboratively with stakeholders and growers to develop an outreach educational campaign to promote sustainable agricultural technologies and programs in CNMI. The SARE program of CNMI will work with all stakeholders to engage and encourage participation of members of local communities in program activities so that they could be inspired to adopt and integrate sustainable agriculture technologies and practices into their local production systems. Overall, greater productive capacity for local agricultural produce will be achieved by strengthening local food systems and by promoting concepts of sustainability and environmental stewardship, which will ultimately contribute to improved health and economic status of local communities.
Objectives of this study are: 1) Identify, evaluate, and promote locally appropriate sustainable agricultural technologies; 2) Develop outreach and educational materials and organize seminars to promote sustainable agriculture for multispecies and multipurpose crops; 3) Organize seminars for stakeholders and local growers to increase visibility of the SARE programs and grants; 4) Provide assistance and technical advice to local growers to develop SARE farmer and rancher grant proposals; and 5) Develop a multi-year collaborative educational and professional development program.
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) has developed an unsustainable and economically detrimental reliance on imported foodstuff, especially fruits, vegetables, and other food products. The increase in the consumption of imported food has led to an overall decline in local food production resulting in the in-sufficient means of income generation for local farmers and food insecurity in the region. Hence, to ensure food security and to build a viable economy, there is an urgent need to increase local food production. In addition to the stiff competition between local and imported food products, many other limiting factors such as the non-availability of disease-free and elite seedlings of vegetatively propagated crops, increased incidents of pests and diseases, unstable supply of local produce, lack of agricultural professionals and limited knowledge and skills of agricultural workforce in locally appropriate technologies and practices hinder sustainable production of agricultural commodities in CNMI, as evident in the inputs of the key stakeholders. Appropriate extension intervention in form of innovative climate-friendly strategies and sustainable agricultural practices will help the island communities to learn the skills required to develop and sustain small agricultural farm enterprises for local food production and thus provide means of income generation and enhanced food security.
During the reporting period, the program concentrated on “train-the-trainer” approach, was applied through field days and demonstrations, onsite technical advice, interactive workshops, PowerPoint presentations, hands-on activities, and question-answer sessions. The program also provided adequate opportunities to educate and train farmers and rural communities in farmer/rancher grant writing and on-farm implementation of sustainable agriculture and climate-smart practices through training workshops (including PowerPoint presentations and hands-on trainings) at the agriculture research station, and field days (demonstrations at the Agriculture Research Station and producer sites). In addition, as much as possible, an interactive component was incorporated into every training session. As a part of this interactive approach, role playing and problem-solving activities were designed to encourage and promote behavioral change among the trainees.
Education & Outreach Initiatives
Program aims to enhance food security, promote sustainable economic development, and improve quality of life by improving local agricultural production of staple food and cash crops. This will include increasing knowledge and skills of agricultural workforce, providing technology to prolong the shelf-life of agricultural commodities, introducing affordable changes in locally appropriate production systems, and reducing pesticide and herbicide use. Also, increase visibility of the program among stakeholders and local growers and provide them assistance and technical advice for farmer/rancher grant proposals.
The program has conducted randomized block design experiments on eight (8) varieties of cantaloupes (Superstar, Ambrosia, Athena, Maverick, Aphrodite, Cruiser, Shockwave, Sugar cube) and three (3) varieties of honeydews (Passport, Masada, Dream) in five (5) replications. The program has identified six (6) varieties of cantaloupes (Shockwave, Ambrosia, Aphrodite, Maverick, Athena and Superstar) and one (1) variety of honeydew (Passport) as most suitable and appropriate varieties to grow on CNMI islands. These varieties possess desired sweetness, color, flavor, and shelf life. The average weight of the fruit in recommended varieties ranges from 5 to 10 pounds, which can be harvested between 48 to 85 days. These recommended varieties proved more resilient to common diseases (leaf blight, anthracnose, gummy stem blight, powdery mildew, southern blight, bacterial wilt, cucumber mosaic and downy mildew), pest (aphids, cucumber beetles, melon worm and squash bug) and root knot nematodes.
All of the recommended varieties performed very well while using sustainable agricultural practices as compared to conventional practices. The program utilized applied sustainable agricultural practices to manage irrigation, nutrients, weeds, and pests and to examine optimal conditions to achieve maximum crop yields and performance. It was noticed that cantaloupes and honeydew grow best in organically rich and well-drained soil with a pH of 6.0-6.5. Therefore, the project recommended testing the soil for pH and fertilizer requirements. The use of reflective plastic mulch to control insects and weeds, and to maintain humidity and soil temperature also proved beneficial, therefore, their use is encouraged among various stakeholders.
Outreach and education activities, virtual and face-to-face workshops, one-on-one training, and stakeholder’s meetings are being organized at multiple sites to increase awareness and develop skills in the climate-friendly strategies and sustainable agricultural practices among farmers, ranchers, and backyard gardeners. Also, farmer/rancher grant writing seminars and one-on-one sessions are being organized to increase visibility of the program among stakeholders and local growers, and to provide them assistance and technical advice for grant proposals.
The outputs include providing technical assistance and on-/off-site recommendations to one hundred thirty-two (132) stakeholders, farmers and ranchers on research-based and locally appropriate farming techniques, innovative climate-friendly strategies and sustainable agricultural practices on various topics that include: soil preparation, sexual and asexual plant propagation, major nutritional deficiencies, organic and inorganic fertilizer application, cover crops, mulching, no-till, irrigation, compost preparation and application, organic and botanical insecticides, identification and management of abiotic and biotic stresses, post-harvest handling practices, crop rotation, data collection and data records, grant writing etc. for sustainable production of vegetables and fruits.
Various seedling preparation, planting and distribution activities are being continued. The harvested fresh produce such as cantaloupes and honeydews that were produced during research experiments and extension demonstrations, were donated to various local schools, dining halls, the Center for Living Independently, and to the vulnerable populations in the local communities for consumption to help meet the unprecedented challenges that COVID-19 pandemic has brought both for our people and broader society.
The outreach, extension and education activities increased knowledge, created awareness, and developed skills of 100% participants in research-based and locally appropriate farming techniques, innovative climate-friendly strategies, and sustainable agricultural practices. Ultimately, various activities developed positive attitudes, zeal for learning and adoption of innovative techniques and farming aspects and changed the behavior of the participants. The donation of fresh produce harvested during the research and extension activities contributed towards ensuring food security among the vulnerable populations during current unprecedented times of COVID-19 pandemic. Also, planning is underway to organize additional extension and outreach activities to further promote adoption and sustainable cultivation of recommended varieties by all stakeholders and wider audience.
Educational & Outreach Activities
Face of SARE
All local outreach activities commenced with a summarized presentation that included a description of the Western region SARE Program with an overview of the goals, organizational structure, funding opportunities, and contact person(s) of the local SARE team. During the reporting period, outreach initiatives included classroom training sessions, one-on-one sessions and on-farm demonstrations. As much as possible, each outreach event was comprised of a hands-on component.