"I just whacked it anyhow," Lino Cabealawa said to describe his approach to farming back in the day before he met WWF-South Pacific Sustainable Land Management (SLM) trainers led by policy officer Alfred Ralifo.
Profit driven, Cabealawa said his ultimate goal as a farmer was to secure as much yield as he possibly could from his given acreage.
To achieve that goal, he relied heavily on synthetic fertilisers to improve his production and his poor farming habits were largely influenced by market demands.
"Before what I normally did was just to get the work done and sometimes when I know I'm behind schedule, I burnt places," Cabealawa said.
"I didn't know how bad that was for the environment.
"It came to light in the SLM training where I learnt about the downside of burning bushes because it kills earthworms and damages about five inches of the top of the soil."
Cabealawa joined 46 other farmers from the Macuata province at the District Model Farm and SLM training held at Yalava Village from May 7 to 11.Cabealawa represented Korovuli Village, where he farms fruits and vegetables.
Farmers from the 10 villages within Sasa district arrived with varying expectations of learning.
The workshop provided farmers with an understanding of the principles of ecosystem-based management — the connectivity between ecosystems and the link between resources on land and at sea.
Farmers were also given insights into harmful practices that have resulted in the depletion of natural resources, such as unsustainable logging practices and burning of vegetation for clearing that have negatively impacted the marine and freshwater resources of and around the Great Sea Reef, that lies about 40 kilometers east of where they farm.
"It was an eye-opener, I thought I knew everything there is to know about farming," Cabealawa said.
A take away from the workshop that he immediately put to practise is the use of organic fertilisers on his vegetable farm, which he observed made significant changes to his yield and budget.
"I now use goat and sheep waste for manure and have seen the changes especially in cucumbers and vegetables which seem bigger in size, have higher yields and the best thing is I don't have to spend money buying fertiliser."
Cabealawa supplies Nukubati Island Resort with pineapples and vegetables that he proudly markets as organic.
At village meetings in Korovuli, he encouraged villagers to cease the environmentally harmful practice of burning to clear land for farming.
Using box farming techniques learnt at the SLM workshop, Cabealawa set up a village nursery and started applying contour farming.
"We intend to also begin planting indigenous trees on the fringes of our farms to prevent soil erosion.
"For the first time as villagers and farmers, we acknowledge that our practices affect the environment.
"We know how we treat the land here affects the Great Sea Reef and potentially harm creatures and jeopardises the livelihoods of others, so we are farming with a difference these days."
* Theresa Fox is the communications officer for WWF South Pacific. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.