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May 1, 2019

Happy Chicken Workshop for Remote Kiribati Atolls

Making VCO to produce chicken feed
Making VCO to produce chicken feed

We conducted our very first international Happy Chicken traing workshop at the Fiji farm and hatchery for ten days, 9-18 April.  A group of five community representatives flew in from the remote coral atolls of Aranuka, Marakei, and Tarawa, with the transport paid for by an Australian grant to our Kiribati partner, FSPK.

An important revelation of the discussions during the week is that the fish of Aranuka Atoll have become poisonous to eat in recent years, since the corals died in the 2014-15 mass coral bleaching event, which was caused by extremely hot water due to el Nino and climate change. The fish poison "ciguatera" has worsened to the point whereby people are deprived of most reef fish in their diet, with only a few species remaining safe to eat.  This makes the chicken project all the more important to the community.  

The goal of the workshop was to learn the care and breeding principles necessary to build a successful community poultry programme on each of the atolls.  Due to the isolation of Kiribati, the projects must rely totally on local feeds, rather than imported feed. The participants learned about local plant foods, care and feeding, housing, and breeding. Incubation was also taught, using the small incubators that they already have on site.  An illustrated handbook was created that includes most of the information, and was given out to the participants.

Additional training included the making of virgin coconut oil (VCO), as a means for de-fatting coconut so that more coconut can be fed to the chickens- full-fat coconut can only be 25% of a healthy chicken diet, while defatted coconut can make up 40-50%.   Leucaena and morniga leaves, chopped kumala leaves, and chopped Vigna beach pea leaves are ideally added to the defatted coconut, which ensures that more healthy vegetable matter and complete/balanced protein sources are consumed.

Using the VCO, we demonstrated soap making to the trainees, which was very exciting to them.  Coconut oil soap lathers well in brackish water, and is better for the atolls than imported soaps. Dried seaweeds, brought to Fiji from Kiribati, were made into seaweed gel, and then used to make kimchee pickles and coconut jelly pie.  The biggest hit was the after-shower gel, made from seven parts seaweed gel mixed with one part VCO, scented with vanilla and orange oil.  Everyone took a bottle home, with plans to make their own. 

As Ruiti, the FSPK Director, had a permit for bringing seeds back, we spent time preparing and drying various vegetable and fruit seeds from around the farm. 

Each participant was sent home with an efficient coconut grater, a strong bucket, watering dishes for baby chicks, a roll of 1cm wire mesh for making a mobile rearing pen (7 meter x 75cm), a 500 gram bottle of caustic soda for making soap, and ample chick starter feed.

We will send the baby chicks via plane to Kiribati next week, and FSPI will follow up on the atolls.  We are also planning for follow up visits, as resources allow.  

The former president of Kiribati, Mr Anote Tong, visited the farm to view the project last week, right on the heels of the Kiribati workshop.  This historic visit was filmed by Netherlands TV, and will be aired in several countries in Europe. This visit was a great honor for the Happy Chicken project and the farm staff, and we hope the filming will result in some good exposure as well.  

Thanks so much for your support in making this vital work happen.

Tebbi hugging a Kabir cross rooster
Tebbi hugging a Kabir cross rooster
Seeta and Ata-ata working in the hatchery
Seeta and Ata-ata working in the hatchery
Tebbi loves the new hatched chicks
Tebbi loves the new hatched chicks
President Tong visits the farm to learn more!
President Tong visits the farm to learn more!
Workshop participants with C4C staff
Workshop participants with C4C staff
Apr 29, 2019

Coral Bleaching Hits Fiji Revealing 'Super' Corals

Coral Gardeners building a 'fish house' with guest
Coral Gardeners building a 'fish house' with guest

Coral bleaching has hit our Fiji sites. The hot Southern hemisphere summer is coming to an end, but it has taken a toll on our corals.  The ocean water temperature got to 33C (90F) in the nearshore reefs and 30C (87F) on the outer cooler reefs.  Many of the corals became badly stressed and lost their symbiotic algae and turned white, and some of those are now dead or dying, on both nearshore and outer reefs.  However, on the positive side many corals did not bleach at all- they have shown themselves to be bleaching resistant 'super corals'.  This is very encouraging.

Last year we trained 18 coral gardeners, two who are now employed full-time by Plantation Island Resort. These coral gardeners, Sera and Merekelini, were rather horrified by the bleaching, which was their first experience with so many corals dying.  Some of the corals they had established in the nurseries are now badly bleached, and some have died.  But I am thankful that this happened early on in their coral gardening careers, as they now know how important selection for heat tolerance really is!  The girls have been busy collecting newly-killed corals for use in an educational display, rather than having this sadness be for nothing.  And because the super corals are clearly identified now, we are making plans to sample as many of the unbleached corals as possible- to bring  bits of them into the nursery- to replace the dead and bleached corals.  The bleached corals that are still alive will be repanted to cooler water reefs to observe if they recover.

We have invited the resorts from around the Malolo district to send trainees for an emergency training on 13-17 May. Two scientists from the Australian NGO, People for Ocean, will be joining us as volunters and staying on for four months, and Sea Stewardship, a newly registered conservation NGO in Kiribati, who have a 70-foot sailboat that can sleep eleven, has also come on board. The resort has offered their 20-person dorm, plus free meals and boats for the workshop, and so we will be developing a major expansion of the coral work, to quickly collect as many samples from the super corals as possible and to establish them in resorts and communirty sites throughout the Mamanuca Islands.  We are using this bleaching as a warning call to push the coral work to a level yet unseen in the South Pacific.             

In addition to all the activity and stress caused by the bleaching, a team of four from Netherlands TV visited us in the site three days ago to film the bleaching and especially to record the super corals, and their footage includes our coral gardeners and the nurseries, we will be included in a four part series on climate change to be aired in Europe in four languages: Dutch, English, French, and German.  We are becoming a ray of light and hope in all of this darkness- and you are part of that.  

The Fiji work is indeed progressing quickly, with most expenses now covered by the tourism industry, and with additional resorts now coming on board and hiring the university graduates that we have recently trained, expanding this amazing and important coral work.  However, we continue to rely on your donations through GlobalGiving for the vital Kiribati and Tuvalu work, coral reefs in grave trouble there.  Remember that Kiribati suffered the loss of 99% of their corals- the hot water that lasted for just 2-3 months in Fiji in 2018-19, lasted for 5-6 months in Kiribati and for four months in Tuvalu, and the hot water is expected to return to Kiribati in June/July.  In 2014-15 the bleaching lasted for 15 months straight in Kiribati- but even though these are the most impacted coral reefs on the planet, there has been no follow up or monitoring by anyone at all, except for us, meager though it be.  Now with the Sea Stewardship partnership and their large sailboat, we have the potential to visit each of the atolls of Kiribati and Tuvalu for assessment and to create gene bank nurseries in association with the communities. Anything that has survived will be the strongest of the strong. Thus-far we have projects on only two atolls out of the 42 atolls of Kiribati and Tuvalu. We will continue to look for more funding, and we have gotten one small grant in additon to the GG funds, and Tuvalu government has matched our funds there.

So we remain dependent on and greatly thankful to our donors, who keep the project alive, without which we would not have made any of this progress.  Expenses at C4C are low, as no one in or organization is on salary- and there is no overhead.  I am attaching the detailed report on our Kiribati coral nursery, updated from the December 2018 trip.  

In closing, we have just three days left (till 29th April) in a GlobalGiving climate change challenge. If you would consider giving another even small donation to the project, all donations are matched 50% during this period. Plus if we win the challenge (based on numbers of donors, not amount given), we will gain a significant award and will be promoted to the staff of some large companies, and will also appear prominently on the GG website. 

Vinaka vakalevu!   

Bleached corals and super corals in the nursery
Bleached corals and super corals in the nursery
Super corals in the nursery at one year.
Super corals in the nursery at one year.
Bleaching reef, but some corals are not bleached!
Bleaching reef, but some corals are not bleached!
Bleached coral with an unbleached super coral
Bleached coral with an unbleached super coral
Hot water testing site >35C- all but one bleached
Hot water testing site >35C- all but one bleached

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Feb 6, 2019

Another Milestone Achieved

Rahul with his happy chickens on a rainy day.
Rahul with his happy chickens on a rainy day.

The Happy Chicken project reached another milestone in January, with over thirty thousand chicks produced and distributed over the past six years.  In 2018 we conducted happy chicken workshops at the training centre for communties from the remote islands of Taveuni, Kadavu, and Beqa, and from two communities from the province of Naitasiri.  

Our first workshop of 2019 started yesterday, with seven youth coming five hours by bus and carrier from the remote interior village of Nandelei in Tavua.  As always we have head-started chicks to the two-month old stage, so they have a high probability of survival and will begin laying in only four more months.  The community will take over a hundred of these back with them to grow into their own breeding flock.

Our hatchery is closed for two months as we are installing solar power thanks to a grant from New Zealand. Also the number of eggs laid is down to a tenth of what we get in the high season, as most of the hens are undergoing their annual molt, changing their feathers and building up resources for another year of laying.  All the hens free-range and have constant access to forage, their pen doors are open all day, which can be a problem at times with chicken poo on the doorstep or hens sometimes trying to hide a nest and hatch their own chicks.  We had three such renegade nests thatch last year, only seen when the mother hen parades her chicks into full view.  We quickly put the hen with her brood into a mobile rearing pen to protect the chicks from hawks and mongooses.   

We continue to be improve our diverse mixed breed by rearing up a hundred or so chicks every year, and then selecting the largest roosters, and changing the older roosters for the younger males, selling off the older roosters to the neighbors during the New Year holiday when relatives come calling.  The hens lay for 3-4 years, and are retired only when they begin stop laying well.  Our eggs are distinctively diverse in color, ranging from dark brown, to tan, to white, to cream, and even to light blue and green, and we have seen these eggs for sale manay times in the Sigatoka market this past year, which is a good indicator off project success. 

I will close with a story of Rahul, pictured below with his Happy Chickens.  This is the boy who became the head of the house when he was just 14- caring for his younger sister and unmarried aunt.   His mother died of cancer in 2015, and his father, a bus driver, was shortly afterwards imprisoned for five years, all because a young teenage passenger on his bus jumped from the bus unexpectedly and as killed.  Without going into detail on this injustice, we have been helping Rahul in several ways, including happy chickens.  Two years ago, Rahul successfully raised up several dozen chickens, selling the eggs.  He recently he sold off the older birds to help support the family, and he is now is raising up another lot of chckens as he continues developing his small business.  His father wil be released in January, 2020.  Which will be a big relief, and Rahul will graduate from secondary school in 2021.

Thank you all for making these works of love possible.

Junia teaching the trainees
Junia teaching the trainees
Pausing for reflection during the lessons
Pausing for reflection during the lessons
 
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