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"Donner la main" : a participatory analysis of extension and support in Maré Island - New Caledonia

Cousin, Benjamin P.
Fields of Research
Maré Island is one of the four Islands that constitute the Neo-Caledonian Province of Loyauté. The development of commercial agriculture in Maré is constrained by limited water resources and land tenure issues. The island's water is mainly sourced from the fragile ground water lens, which is vulnerable to leaching of chemicals used in commercial agriculture, principally avocado and lychees orchards. Furthermore, ground water is brackish close to the shore, where most tribes are located, and not suitable for irrigation. Hence, orchards must preferably be established in the inland areas of the island. In Maré, planting a tree is traditionally understood as a way to claim the land, and the development of orchards is limited by traditional land tenure. Land is owned by clans, the primary social entity. People who do not belong to one of the major land owner clans have limited access to land for commercial agriculture. In 2001, the rural development services of the provincial administration working closely with the customary authorities, helped 6 farmers, males and females, establish orchards on a 30 hectares shared piece of land in the GDPL Paradise project. Because of the environmental constraints to which Maré is subject, these 6 Recently Established Farmers (REF) were encouraged to develop organic practices. As part of this unique project, the 6 REFs benefited from financial, training and technical advisory support provided by the local Extension and Support Services (ESS), largely managed and sponsored by the Province. This thesis describes research, which is a case study based on a mid-term participatory evaluation of the GDPL Paradise Project in which the 6 REFs are involved. The research sought to provide the Province with information regarding the project's implementation and its potential contribution to sustainable development on the island. The research also analysed the present ESS system in Maré, its merit, effectiveness and weaknesses. Lessons learnt, which can contribute to the project's implementation, upturn of the ESS system and future development endeavours, are derived from the study. The mid-term participatory evaluation allowed REFs to express the problems they are facing and the way they experience them. Though REFs of the GDPL Paradise declared they were satisfied with the training they received, observations during the field research revealed training was incomplete. Most of these REFs experience management difficulties and have not fully understand organic practices. Though the introduction of organic practices was meant to be in line with the local traditional approach to agriculture, most farmers involved with the project still make a strong differentiation between traditional agriculture and organic practices they were trained in. The existing links between traditional knowledge and an organic approach to commercial agriculture have not been amply demonstrated to farmers during training. Extension and support services in Maré, are still based on functional participation and would benefit from a move towards an interactive approach to participation (Pretty J., 1995). In the present ESS system, problem solving resides in the hand of extension agencies and institutions. Farmers are often told what to do and are seldom given confidence to think for themselves and take over the responsibility of problem solving. Increased communication and coordination among ESS agencies, the Province and farmers, and farmers themselves, would improve the success of the project. The GDPL Paradise project has the merit to be a leader and an example project in terms of tackling land tenure and environmental issues in the context of the agricultural development of the island. The lack of proper management tools undermined the first half of this ambitious project's implementation. However the positive attitude and responsiveness of the provincial service and partner extension agencies involved in the project augur well for sustainable change for the better.