Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New film shows that we are what we eat

Captions: 1. DVD cover of Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi. 2. Michel and Jude Fanton in India. 3. Seed Savers’ logo


In Melanesian countries such as Papua New Guinea, most of the traditional food crops such as kaukau (sweet potato), taro, yams, bananas and greens such as aibika are propagated by cuttings or tubers.

People from the coast and mountains, in this day and age, continue to barter their food crops when there is no cash around.

Food plants continue to be used in traditional ceremonies or traditions such as birth, marriage, death and many others.

For instance, the yam festival in the Trobriand Islands of Milne Bay, the banana festival in the Markham Valley of Morobe, and the moka in the Highlands which involves mountains of kaukau supplemented by pigs.

However, big changes are coming, and these may impact on a way of life that has been passed on from generation to generation.

Chemical agriculture is becoming the trend in our islands and the mainland, and hybrid seeds mass-produced by multi-national corporations are becoming the norm, which have a huge impact on our farming culture.

Have you noticed when hybrid seeds are grown that sprays have to be used because of insect or fungal damage?

Have you tried to save the seed of hybrid/F1 maize – now popular all over Port Moresby with the current rain - or other crops?

The quality, of course, is a lot poorer.

These losses are happening in villages all over PNG, and many villagers can tell you of varieties of bananas, yams, kaukau and taro that are not seen any more.

White rice, flour, noodles and Coca-Cola are replacing what our people have been eating and drinking since time immemorial.

Rice comes in different qualities, some a lot healthier than others, however, there is only one available in our shops.

Who thinks that there is chicken, beef or prawns in packet noodles?

Answer: None, just chemical flavours that taste like the picture on the packet.

There is also an obvious relationship between going less to the bush gardens and health, as our grandfathers didn’t have heart attacks, diabetes or were overweight.

This is the crux of a powerful new film, Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi, which will be launched at the Moresby Arts Theatre by Community Development Minister Dame Carol Kidu next Monday night.

I had the chance to watch the film with my children on Wednesday night, thanks to a complimentary DVD from Seed Savers’ Network husband and wife directors Michel and Jude Fanton, and could not stop worrying about the future of my young ones after that.

Our Seeds: Seeds Blong Yumi is a 57-minute film shot in 11 countries and made for Pacific audiences that celebrates traditional foods and the plants they grow from.

The film introduces to the people of the Pacific the varied people who save seeds and stand at the source of humanity’s diverse food heritage.

This is a David and Goliath story where resilience and persuasive logic triumph over seemingly-invincible giant corporations.

Pacific islanders face great challenges to their way of life, their culture and their traditional cultivation methodologies.

They fall into the trap of replacing resilient food crop varieties with modern hybrids that require pesticides and chemical fertilisers.

They replace innumerable varieties of root staples with imported low quality starch such as white rice, biscuits and noodles.

This film seeks to reverse this trend in such ways as:


•           Bringing back the good food;

•           Recognising that traditional varieties are better;

•           Growing mixed gardens;

•           ‘Sharing food’ between people in urban areas such as Port Moresby, Port Vila (Vanuatu) and Honiara (Solomon Islands);

•           The return of the local seed;

•           Joining the seed keepers;

•           Becoming a seed keeper; and

•           Celebrating the seed keepers:


Directors Michel and Jude Fanton shot 195 hours in 11 countries: Spain, France, Italy, India, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands.

In PNG, the film is shot in the Tari area of Southern Highlands province.

The film features Pacific islanders as they face great challenges to their way of life, their many cultures and their traditional cultivation methodologies.

They fall into the same traps as people in Westernised countries: they replace innumerable varieties of root staples with modern hybrids that require pesticides and chemical fertilisers; they import low quality starch such as white rice, biscuits and noodles and risk losing their resilient food crops.

 The Fantons have developed instructive motion graphics and a rich sound track, mostly indigenous music recorded in the making of the film.

Audio options are original English soundtrack and Pacific Pigin.

Subtitle options are English and French.

The Fantons hope the government-owned National Television Service will screen the film as the governments of Western Samoa, American Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu did last year, repeatedly.

The Seed Savers' Network – website - was founded in 1986 to preserve the diversity of cultural plants.

 Its activities included a newsletter, seed exchange, seed bank, frequent events and workshops and the publication of a best selling handbook on the subject in Australia.

“Our work is funded solely by our subscribers, supporters and generous gifts,” the Fantons says.

“We function on very limited resources, with the help of many volunteers.

“Some of our achievements:

•           We have had over 5,500 varieties come through our seed bank;

•           Over 10,000 people have been directly involved with Seed Savers;

•           20,000 sample packets of original seeds are made up each year by volunteers from the Tamborine Mountain Seed Savers' group for us to give away. Banora Point Garden Club near Tweed Heads began packing seeds too in March 1997;

•           23,000 copies of The Seed Savers' Handbook sold in the first 10 years;

•           Over 1,300 varieties of seeds and other planting materials are offered in our Spring newsletters;

•           Seed Savers' has helped to establish Seed Networks in a number of other countries such as Cambodia, East Timor, Ecuador, India, Japan, Solomon Islands and The Philippines.”

The Fantons can be contacted on email or mobile 711 246 23. To watch the film launching, contact Moresby Arts Theatre on mobile 71921848.



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