Most people that come to visit or live in Bali enjoy the healthy food. They eat in an international selection of restaurants without knowing that many of the ingredients consumed are imported. This global diet puts an obvious strain on the environment and sometimes locally produced food gets overlooked or even lost. Yes, shopping locally is an obvious way to help, but there’s more that can be done. It’s small, it’s simple, and it can be done by folks of all ages all over the place. Mother of two and Grandmother of one traveling the globe, Malaika is a specialist in seeds and is currently in Bali sharing her passion. I sat down to find out more.
IB: What makes you so excited about seeds?
MD: I am the youngest of 4 children and whenever my siblings told stories about our childhood from before I was born, my brother would say, “you weren’t even a seed”, so maybe that is what planted the seed to find something important in that insignificant little seed! After growing up in Canada, I moved to Australia to study Marine Biology & botany and eventually did an internship with Michelle and Jude Fanton, directors of the documentary ‘Our Seeds’.
IB: When did you start traveling and planting seeds?
MD: I decided in 2010 to leave home and become a nomad; to travel the globe, sharing my knowledge on planting seeds, dancing and playing music. I have planted seeds all over the world even though I don’t usually get to eat the fruits, somebody eventually will and we eat what somebody else grew: so it all goes around. The trick, and that is what my teachers Michelle and Jude taught me most, is trying to discover what is native to each place. In every culture each seed has a song, a dance and is attached to something to do with their ancestors .”
IB: What have you learned in Bali about ceremonies and planting?
MD: This island if full of wonderful traditions! From the holy Banyan trees where the temples are now built, to the ritual of grandfathers and grandmothers planting jackfruit or mangosteen trees for every grandchild to celebrate new life. Something that I, with coincidence, was already undertaking back in Australia. There are trees that are now twenty-five years old in Byron Bay Australia where I was living that I can say, that’s Eka’s tree, that’s Mia’s tree, Jaden’s tree or Hopi’s tree. The kids and the trees are connected and they will provide food for the next generation. Its part of the blessing way ceremonies I started in Oz planting fruit trees on baby’s placentas. I later found out this is still a tradition here in Bali.
IB: What is native to Bali?
MD: Many varieties of rice, black, red, brown, short /long grain, many fruits durian, lychee, jackfruit, many varieties of bananas, papayas, soursop, rambutans, mangosteen, many varieties of mangos, salak or snake fruit, mandarins, coconuts, and a whole host of rainforest fruits. Bali used to have hundreds of different varieties of rice. Each would be used for different occasions and if you ask any old Balinese, there will be stories and traditions connected to all these different types of rice. Some for instance took a longer growing period and so were also more nutritious than others. This special rice was used for breastfeeding mothers for example; others were used for specific ceremonies.
Growing rice is labor intensive and with cultural traditions being influenced by global economies and global educational indoctrination, you do not see the next generation planting rice along side their Grandparents. Instead they are looking for “real” jobs in Circle K or Bintang and not interested in getting dirty in the rice fields! This has happened all over the world, as our education system does not honour the enormous amount of knowledge that farmers have around seed saving & growing food as valuable assets. Struggling farmers the world over succumb to forfeiting local varieties of food for foreign fast growing varieties that require chemicals and this disrupts the whole cycle that the Balinese had perfected. From seed saving to irrigation, planting fruit trees in the rice fields with ducks to fertilize, eels and small fish were all part of the traditional diet and eco systems.
Hybrids of GE rice and its wild relatives could swamp populations of wild species, possibly leading to their extinction and impacting negatively on agrobiodiversity. Crop genetic diversity is important for food security, acting as a reservoir for future breeding efforts. As Asia is the centre of origin of rice, any release of GE rice there must be mindful of this fact. Traditional varieties of maize in Mexico, a centre of origin and diversity of maize, have already been contaminated by transgenes (CEC 2004; Quist and Chapela 2001). So much so that the Commission for Environmental Cooperation of North America (CEC) (2004) has recommended strictly enforcing the current moratorium on commercial GE maize planting in Mexico.
Now people want to grow villas where once green paddy fields flourished as they provide an income farmers could never dream of. One solution is for Balinese farmers to use portions of their rice fields to grow a larger variety of foods, in order to feed themselves and their villages better and diversify, grow organic to provide to restaurant’s that supply organic food to the many café’s that westerners come for. This would provide a better income for the farmer and better food security for his family.
It is also safer for a farmer to grow a diverse range of food, because when a pest gets one, he doesn’t lose his entire crop.
IB: What do you see as the biggest threat to the environment?
MD: US! A culture that is based on greed and capitalist gain at all costs is costing us the Earth! With that has come Genetically Engineered GE, GM – Modified, GMO’s – Genetically Manipulated Organisms as number one environmental pollution that we have no idea of the consequences.
Plastic Pollution, air pollution, water contamination as number two, which are all related to an economic paradigm of growth at all costs.
Multinational corporations are trying to get rid of biodiversity because the more diverse something is; the harder it is to control. But biodiversity is what we want, because when we all buy packets of hybridized seeds, all the food is going to taste the same and also needs chemicals, fertilizers and pesticides all of which are poisonous. The danger of mass mono-cropping is the loss of biodiversity and many species continue to disappear, not to mention the loss of nutritional values, cultural values, and environmental values.
IB: What do you suggest people do?
MD: When traveling try something different then the imported fruits like apples, kiwis, & grapes that they sell here in the supermarket. Instead visit the local markets in the morning and buy what the farmers are selling; rambutan, durian, papaya, avocado, salak, sapaddillos. Something else what’s great to do is to plant or give a tree. It’s a friend’s birthday, in a villa you are renting, a baby was born at your neighbour’s house, Heirloom Seeds or a fruit tree are a great and grateful present! Bali is becoming a yoga capital but so many people only focus on the asanas (poses) but part of yoga is also seva (giving back) to the community. It’s great to have a nice yoga outfit, but what do you do for your community?Again, I say, plant something that grows!
What we can do:
1) Plant food! e.g. tasty pineapple, stick the top in the ground. Delicious papaya? A new one grows in 6 months. Let it grow!
2) Buy fruit trees at one of the many nurseries around the island and give them as gifts to locals around you who can take care of it, great reason to visit the island again and eat your own fruit!
3) Buy at the local organic and farmer’s markets. Support the local farmer to keep growing all these different fruits and veggies. (Tuesday & Sat morning from 8, Penestenan & Ubud check for one in the area you are visiting & visit the local markets)
4) Support: PLANT IT FORWARD- not for-profit grass roots initiative (www.inmyelements.com)
5) Watch: Documentary: OUR SEEDS,http://seedsavers.net