The Most Delicious Cherimoyas in the World
Bene Tuki-Paté, one of the great sculptors of the Island, at his 70 years of age, wanders happily through his orchard, soon to start the pruning of his 500 trees, all cherimoyas (custard apple) of the Annonaceae family, up to 8 meters (26 feet) in height. The fruit is heart-shaped and can weigh anything from 100 grams (3.5 ounces) to over 1 kilo (2.2 pounds). He planted them 10 years ago. “I started this project because someone who came to visit saw a cherimoya on the table. It was from a small tree that I had in the garden at the house. He tried it and said that it was the best cherimoya he had ever eaten – and he was a producer of cherimoyas from Quillota (continental Chile)! He brainwashed me into starting a plantation on the Island. I wasn’t really convinced at first, but when the time came, I invested in 800 plants which we brought from La Serena, which is on the same latitude as the Island. I had them sent to my brother-in-law in Hijuelas, so that he could then ship them to me on the Island. And I began to prepare the soil and planted them.” Bene Tuki, as one of the most well-known sculptors on the Island, travels a lot, due to the many invitations that he receives to show his work in other countries. Finally he didn’t have time to do it all and abandoned the plantation.
The agro-ecologist, Juan Carlos Cabrera, recommends a simple irrigation system. First, a tank or a pond measuring approximately 16 x 30 meters (53 x 99 feet) with a capacity of around 750 m3 (200,000 gallons) is required. Technological irrigation is designed to cover the needs for water of the planted trees, as well as giving them fertilizer. Bene Tuki uses a system with low costs (2,200,000 Chilean pesos: approximately US$ 3,300) and low consumption of energy to avoid contamination of the air. The water pump is a 4-stroke motor which uses a liter (a bit more than a quart) of gasoline per hour and is capable of irrigating one hectare (2.4 acres) at a time. The system of hoses is a mobile Lifelat which has a built-in 120-mesh filter. There are 7 valves to control the flow and maintain the pressure evenly throughout all of the drippers. Due to the high gradient of the property, each plant has 4 drippers which give it 4.2 liters (1 gallon) per hour.
Bene looks content as he keeps an eye on his trees and prepares them for pruning. His new investments are taking up all his time, so that he’s left off his art work. He says that his studio, which is in front of his house, will become a museum and will be his legacy to the Island. “I’m so involved with the cherimoyas that my sculpture is now on ‘stand by’. I’m 100% dedicated to my orchard and very grateful to Juan Carlos, who has been teaching me without charging me for his work. Juan Carlos is promoting sustainable ecological agronomy for the Island. To do that, we have to establish exportable organic products. The first step is for local consumption and then for export. We can’t just depend on fishing and tourism. We want to encourage other farmers to plant their properties to finally achieve self-sufficiency in food for the Island. The truth is that we shouldn’t have governors or authorities who are Rapanui, because they always say yes to everyone and everything. We are all related here and no one would dare deny anyone anything because they just want to avoid problems. But no one advances that way. We haven’t yet been able to maintain even the 8,000 people who live here. Everything is brought in from the continent.”
“Agro-ecology considers the conservation of natural resources, the protection of the environment and the social contribution to the community. In modern times, most investments consider only the material resources and not the well-being of the workers as a requirement. Ecology is also interested in having a happy human being,” closes Juan Carlos Cabrera, while inviting other Rapanui to follow the example of Bene Tuki and work for the self-sufficiency of the Island.
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