AS more Fijians turn to growing fresh produce at home to help reduce food bills, Chef Seeto suggest it is also an opportune time to create income and restart the battle against non-communicable disease at home by learning to eat more nutritionally.
One of the not so unexpected outcomes of COVID is that many Fijians have turned to what they instinctually know best – farming. Regardless of your cultural heritage, the knowledge to plant, grow and harvest sustainable foods was ingrained in our DNA by our forefathers.
Agriculture has been key to the growth and development of human civilization since we first learned to grow food. When the iTaukei ancestors arrived more than 3000 years ago, they brought with them plants and seeds from their native lands to provide food for sustenance in their new home.
The history of agriculture in India dates back to the Indus Valley Civilisation more than 8000 years ago. Ancient Vedic literature provides examples of plowing, fallowing, irrigation, fruit and vegetable cultivation.
The Chinese have been farming even longer, for more than 10,000 years, when its ancient people lived in villages and made their living from the land. The point is for most Fijians, farming is in our blood.
Eat for nutrition
The battle to prevent non-communicable diseases (NCD) has largely fallen on deaf ears in past years, but COVID-19 has now opened an opportunity to learn to eat more nutritionally at home. Before COVID-19 it was harder to convince the family to eat more fresh produce, but these difficult times has now forced many to accept that eating from the yard will help save the family money.
The average family has less discretionary income to go out and spend money on food, so growing and eating your own makes total sense. Whether you are a person with strong religious conviction or believe that mother nature has reminded the human race that she is in charge, now is the opportune time to get used to eating homegrown fruits and vegetables.
If not to save money, but to also eat more vitamins and minerals to prevent NCD’s in later life. The key to getting the family to eat nutritionally is to learn more recipes and make fresh produce exciting and tasty.
Turn your garden into money
With thousands of people out of work or on reduced hours, one of the easiest ways to stretch a limited budget is to grow your own food to both save and make money.
There is opportunity to turn home farming into a good sideline business by selling produce at markets, on the roadside or direct to restaurants. Fiji’s nutrient-rich soil and tropical climate provides golden opportunity to learn grow a broad range of plants. All you need is a patch of land with good soil, access to water and of course, natural sunlight.
Seedlings and cuttings can be sourced from family and friends already growing produce, whilst seeds can be purchased from a number of vendors in our cities.
The internet is a wealth of knowledge to learn what fruits and vegetables grow best in your region. Herbs grow really fast, which is why we are seeing an abundance in home farmers growing dhaniya, mint, basil and lemongrass.
Cabbages, eggplant and okra (bindhi) are another vegetable that grow fast right now and are always in demand. If you are planning to sell to restaurants, learn what the chefs need for their menus and deliver straight to their door.
A busy restaurant will buy in volume, and beats standing in the hot sun on the roadside or at the market all day.
Resist the need to use chemical fertilizers or pesticides in your garden as it both spoils the taste of the produce and introduces dangerous chemicals into the food.
These chemicals will no doubt fasten the harvest time, but you are unnecessarily poisoning your family or customers as the plant absorbs these chemicals to. Chemicals also can have a long-term effect on the land, rendering it useless to grow produce in later years.
These chemicals also eventually seep into the water table of nearby rivers, boreholes and oceans, potentially poisoning livestock, pets and sea life. Do some internet research and learn how to use natural fertilizers like animal manure, food scraps and guano (bat poo) to promote growth.
There are also many natural pesticides to deter bugs from eating your leafy crops including crushed eggshells, neem leaf and salt or garlic sprays.
Organic produce is tastier, safer and more enriched with vitamins and minerals. One of the biggest advantages that Fiji has to survive COVID-19 is that we can grow just about anything on our pristine land, so don’t go spoiling it for future generations with chemicals.
Value adding your hard work
One of the mistakes that many home farmers make is that grow the same produce as their neighbours, creating an oversupply and then lessening the value of your hard work.
One way to make more money from common home garden produce is to transform them into value-added products. Customers love buying products that take time and expertise to make.
This might include chutneys, jams, pickles and fermented vegetables like kimchi and sauerkraut. Every household has secret family recipes for value- added products so make use of mum’s favourite chutney or jams and sell them.
The added benefit is that once cooked, your garden produce lasts much longer in sealed jars. In recent weeks I discovered a delicious apple and banana chutney at the markets, but when I returned, she had sold out.
Which leads me to some business advice if you choose to do this – keep doing it.
There is nothing worse than creating a market for your goods and then you cannot consistently supply. Creating a home business during this COVID-19 time is exciting but you also need to commit to the hard work it entails to keep the business rolling.
Agriculture is Fiji’s future
COVID-19 has devasted global economies and forced most of the planet to re-think and re-evaluate their priorities. Whilst this has been extremely disruptive, it has also called upon the Fijian spirit of resilience and creativity to find a way to survive, and even prosper.
The future for Fiji’s prosperity has always been agriculture and aquaculture because it is the one national asset that we have to create income for the country.
With pristine oceans, nutrient-rich volcanic soils and our inherit agricultural skills, history has positioned Fiji to feed and heal the world with world-class produce.
The task for government and private enterprise is to work out what we can grow and harvest that is of high value, in high demand, with shorter harvest times and recession proof.
The author is an award-winning celebrity chef, host of FBC-TV’s “Exotic Delights” and owner of KANU restaurant in Nadi.
This popular South Indian recipe uses
fresh grated coconut and karela (bitter
gourd) with spice that is a delicious and
easy vegetarian dish. Karela has known
properties to aid in the control of blood sugar
1 large bitter gourd (karela), fi nely
1 cup grated coconut
½ cup onion, fi nely chopped
2 long green chilies, diagonally sliced
1 stem of curry leaves
1 tablespoon virgin coconut oil
1 teaspoon mustard seeds (sarso)
2 whole dried red chilies, broken in half
Salt – to taste
- Combine chopped karela with grated
coconut, onion, green chilli and fi nely
chopped curry leaves
- Heat a frypan to medium heat. Fry mustard
seeds and dry red chillies in virgin coconut
- Add bitter gourd mixture and a good
pinch of salt. Sprinkle little water. Cover
and cook at low heat stirring occasionally
until the karela is done and the coconut
mixture is dry, about 12 – 15 minutes.
- Serve with rice
Spiced apple and banana chutney
1 large Onion
1 clove Garlic
1 small piece Ginger
2 Bongo chillies
¼ cup sultanas
300 grams sugar
250 ml vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
3 Cinnamon stick (1/4 teaspoon powder)
1/2 tsp Turmeric powder
1 bunch Mint leaves
1 tbsp Salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
- Remove the core from the apples, and
slice into bite-sized pieces. Put them in a
cast iron or stainless steel (non-reactive)
pot, coat with the sugar, and leave for
about 1 hour.
- Thinly slice the onion. Roughly chop the
garlic, ginger, bongo chilli and sultanas.
Cut the lemon into quarter with skin on,
then thinly slice them. Cut the banana
into bite-sized pieces.
- Sprinkle 100ml of the vinegar over the apples,
and turn on the heat. When it comes
to a boil, turn down the heat to very low,
and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Add the ingredients from Step 3 with cinnamon,
black pepper, and rest of the vinegar.
Simmer for about 40 minutes over
very low heat, stirring from time to time.
- When the liquid in the pot has reduced,
add the salt, turmeric, and chopped mint.
Mix, simmer for another 5 minutes, and
- Transfer to clean sterilised jars, and seal
with the lids. Place the jars upside down
until the chutney has cooled down to sterilize
the air inside.
Pork and gobi cabbage stir fry
Gobi cabbage, or English cabbage, can
be boring to eat on its own but when you
combine it with meats, the vegetable is
transformed into a hearty and delicious dish
that the family will eat in minutes. You can
substitute the pork in this recipe for any preferred
meat or just leave it out completely
and enjoy this savoury and sour dish.
2 tablespoons oil
1 small piece pork belly or bacon, thinly
5 cloves garlic, smashed and cut in half
5 dried red chilies, deseeded and very
1 small gobi cabbage
2 teaspoons Shaoxing Chinese rice wine
(or dry sherry)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon Chinese black vinegar (or
normal white vinegar)
2 stalk spring onions, cut into 2-inch
- If using pork belly, clean and pat dry, and
rub with salt and pepper.
- In a wok or large pan over high heat, add
the oil. Sear the meat until browned. Add
the garlic and chili, turn down the heat to
medium, and stir-fry for a minute, taking
care not to burn the garlic.
- Add the cabbage, wine, soy sauce, sugar,
- Turn up the heat to high, cover the lid and
let the cabbage cook for 1-2 minutes.
- Uncover the lid, and stir in the vinegar,
spring onions, and salt to taste. The cabbage
should be wilted, but still slightly
crunchy and caramelised.
- Serve your cabbage stir-fry hot