He was once labelled as a thief, fighter, and criminal during his days in Honiara, the capital city of Solomon Islands. Today he is one of the most famous farmer in east Kwara’ae, Malaita province. He is Gideon Tolonga from Rabuta village in the mountainous area of east Malaita.
“I was once a great thief in Honiara,” Mr. Tolonga said. He added that people labelled him with bad names and titles because of his criminal acts and involvement with illegal doings.
“I was one of the worst youths at Borderline known for stealing, smoking Marijuana, drinking, and causing a lot of noise along the streets. I can steal other people’s belongings including big amount of money. Prison before had become my home.”
But in 2002, after the ethnic tension in Solomon Islands, Mr. Tolonga was forced to go back to Malaita province with his parents because the economy of the country at that time was really down, there were no job opportunities anymore. He was then tasked by his father to do farming and plant cacao beans or cocoa, and his farming journey begins.
“Since that time, my eyes started to open wide and my mind started to think. The money I earn from cocoa farming every fortnight and the hardship I endured to make that money educated me in a lot of ways.”
In 2013, he got married and it was yet another blessing to him in his farming career. “She [my wife] was a blessing to me. She knows a lot about gardening with skills in different methods especially shifting cultivation methods.”
Mr. Tolonga had been a successful farmer since then.
Gideon Tolonga holding his Kava plant.
Recently, most of the people in the country started to turn to planting Kava, a crop in the Pacific Islands used as a key ingredient for anxiety and insomnia medication. Mr. Tolonga followed the trend.
“This year I’m extending my farm again. I am planning to plant Kava so that I can earn good money at the end of my hard work. Farming kava is like I am depositing in the ground that two years’ time I will take my bonus.”
If there is one advice that Mr. Tolonga wanted to tell the youth, it is that home is a place that can provide job opportunities and a future. Instead of chasing short term opportunities in the cities, he urged the youth to see a bright future in the farm lands.
“There are many ways to be successful. When you lived in a farm land, you will already have land and other resources that you can get money from. I would like to call on youths from Malaita who have nothing to do in Honiara to return home and till the soil. Your future is waiting for you at home, in the soil. When you know what to do, you will be a happy person like me.”
He then concluded that farming taught him a lot of things and it made him become who he is today. The old Gideon had gone and the new one has come.