Interview and photography by Mirjam de Ruiter
In the past week, have you had pizza, sushi, gorgonzola or goji berries? Here in Bali, we are lucky to have access to an array of international culinary experiences, yet it means that much of what we are consuming is increasingly imported. Our global palette puts an obvious strain on the environment – a reality that is easily overlooked by many consumers. Eating “locally” is now fashionable in the West, but here in Bali, some are concerned that there is not enough emphasis on celebrating local food production and cuisine. Malaika Darville is a passionate seed collector and planter (a seed saver) is currently in Bali sharing her passion. I sat down with her to find out more.
IB: What makes you so excited about seeds?
MD: When my siblings told stories during my childhood my brother would say, “back then, you weren’t even a seed”, so maybe that is what planted the seed!
IB: When did you start traveling and planting seeds?
MD: In 2010 I decided to leave my home and sharing my knowledge of seeds. I have planted seeds all over the world even though I don’t usually eat the produce I know that somebody will. The trick, and that is what my teach- ers 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 is native to Bali?
MD: Bali use to cultivate different types of rice for different purposes. For example a special rice was used for breast- feeding and another for specific ceremonies to honour the gods. Growing rice is labour intensive and with cul- tural traditions being influenced by global economies and global educational indoctrination, you do not see the next generation planting rice alongside their grand-parents. Instead they are looking for “real” jobs in Circle K, restaurants or the tourist industry. They are not so inter- ested in getting dirty in the rice fields. Today most of the workers in the rice fields are actually from Java. One idea for a Balinese farmer now might be to use their ricefield to grow a variety of foods, rather than just rice.
IB: What have you learned in Bali about ceremonies and planting?
MD: This island if full of wonderful traditions. From the holy Banyan trees to the rituals of grandfathers planting jack- fruit or mangosteen trees for every grandchild to cele- brate new life. Trees that are now twenty-five years old and you can point them out; that’s Eka’s tree, Brandon’s tree, Jaden’s tree. The kids and the trees are connected and they will provide food for the next generation.
IB: What do you see as the biggest threat to the environ- ment?
MD: A culture that is based on greed and capitalist gain at all costs is costing us the Earth. I think that 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 hybridised seeds, all the food is going to taste the same. These foods need the same chemicals, fertilisers and pesticides all of which are poisonous. The dangers of monocropping are countless. Entire species will disappear, along with cultural and nutritional values.
IB: What do you suggest people do here?
MD: Resist eating imported fruits such as apples, kiwis and grapes. Instead visit the local markets in the morning and buy what the farmers are selling; rambutan, durian, pa- paya, avocado or salak. 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? My motto is “plant something that grows”. As well as being a lovely gesture, planting or giving a tree makes a great gift for birthdays or the arrival of new babies.
Here’s what we can do:
1) Plant food whenever and wherever you can. Stick the top of a pineapple in the ground or a pot. Plant that papaya pit and come back in six months to see the results.
2) Buy fruit trees or give seeds as gifts for every occasion, for everyone, all the time. Seeds and trees are a great and grateful present!
3) Support: Plant It Forward, a non-profit grassroots initiative – www.inmyelements.com
4) Watch the documentary OUR SEEDS, www.seedsavers.netby