Randon Jack is known to like getting his hands in the dirt. He’s a hands-on gardener, while also a futuristic, forward thinker.
Randon told the Journal that when people hear the word “agriculture,” they usually think of it as farming, when it is more than that.
“Agriculture is the practice of growing food crops in farms, and rearing animals such as piggeries and poultry farming, to provide food and other materials to create local products,” said Randon, who two years ago graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, one of a very few Marshallese to train in this field. He now works for the Agriculture Division within the Ministry of Natural Resources and Commerce.
He pointed out that agriculture is a big challenge here due to atolls being flat, narrow strips of land, which makes it difficult to find adequate land and good soil for mass farming production. Climate change will add more challenges onto this in the future.
Droughts are becoming more intense and wave inundations are becoming more frequent, causing land degradation, such as soil erosion and increasing salinity levels in our soils. All of which means that using old, well-known methods of farming may not produce the best results for the circumstances pot the Marshall Islands.
What Randon would like to see happen with agriculture in the future is for us to find new “climate-smart” methods that can adapt to the effects of the changes already in progress — and share this knowledge with local farmers in Majuro as well as expanding to the outer islands.
“The search for new agriculture technology never ends,” he said.
A term that Randon likes to share is agroforestry, which is the combination of agriculture and forestry (cultivating crops and conservation of trees). Agroforestry is a fairly new term for the Marshall Islands. But Randon comments that “we Marshallese people have been practicing it for many centuries.” It is in the way we plant our traditional food crops and trees, such as breadfruit, pandanus, arrowroot (makmok), swamp and dryland taro, and even coconuts. Agriculture and agroforestry are very important for the Marshall Islands because it is our way of having food security as well as being nutritionally resilient to combat non-communicable diseases, such as the most prevalent diseases here in the RMI: diabetes and hypertension.
It is important for the country to take on and commit to supporting and engaging in agriculture and agroforestry because there will be times when the ships don’t arrive with imported foods, he said.
“If we are food-secured, or better yet, food-resilient, then we can keep food on the table,” he maintains. “I believe that we should also consider going back to traditional crops, especially since they are food crops and trees that we are already familiar with. We already understand the methods of propagation, harvesting, seasonality, and even the traditional methods of food preparation. The truth is, we do have food in our islands, but many of us have relied heavily on imported goods that we are beginning to forget our traditional foods.”
Randon is grateful for the opportunity to work for the Division of Agriculture and thankful for the all the staff and people he works with. He says he is looking forward to continuing his work in this field for many years to come.