Managing Strategic Risks to Agriculture and Forestry in the Pacific: A Summary

At the Fifth Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services meeting on 24-27 September 2012 two keynote speeches laid out the overall challenges for agriculture in the Pacific region.

  • The first is a speech by SPC Director-General Dr Jimmie Rogers, closely based on the LRD Issue Paper entitled “Managing Strategic Risks to Agriculture and Forestry in the Pacific”, which is available here.
  • The second is a speech by the Minister for Primary Industries in Fiji, Ratu Joketani Cokanasiga

The following two posts will contain the content of the speeches.  This first post is intended as a shorter, digestible version of the LRD Issue Paper on which Dr Rogers’ speech was based.

Managing Strategic Risks to Agriculture and Forestry in the Pacific

The LRD Issue Paper first lays out the background macroeconomic context of agriculture from a national level, noting the following:

  • Low GDP growth over the past 5 years – with the exceptions of PNG, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu
  • Low growth in the agriculture sector from the period 2004-2010 – with the exceptions of Solomon Islands and Palau.
  • High labour force participation rates in the agriculture sector
  • Low percentage contribution of the sector to GDP compared to other sectors
  • Low levels of public expenditure on the agriculture sector, relative to both participation rates in agriculture and its contribution to GDP.
  • Household Income and Expenditure Surveys, that count value of home produced food consumed as household income, indicate that agriculture for subsistence provides a significant proportion of poor rural households’ income.

High labour force participation rates in the sector and HIES figures on the significance of the sector for household income underline the importance of agriculture from a sustainable livelihoods perspective; whereas low growth and low public expenditure in agriculture indicate that the sector is not delivering sufficient benefits to its participants and that government resources to tackle agricultural issues are scarce.  The importance of the sector combined with the scarcity of resources to tackle the challenges, underlines the need for a strategic, optimum impact approach to tackling the key challenges in the sector.

It is within this environment of high levels of risk, high levels of participation and income dependency, and low rates of public expenditure, that the Land Resource Division of SPC seeks to support national priorities through the implementation of its capacity building, capacity supplementation and research activities under a new Strategic plan. Going forward, we need to identify those areas which offer the best returns on investment, through an evidence-based approach.”

The Economic Development Challenges to Pacific Agriculture

The LRD Issue Paper lays out the following general economic development challenges to Pacific agriculture:

  • Geographical fragmentation of Pacific Island economies from each other
  • Geographical remoteness of Pacific Island Countries from other major import markets
  • Resultant “permanent wedge” between the cost of production and world market prices for many PICs, making it difficult for them to compete in all but a few niche products (World Bank 2008)
  • The resultant need to differentiate Pacific Island products from cheaper Asian alternatives, and to focus on branding to target niche markets
  • Preferential market access to Australia under SPARTECA trade agreement has been undermined by non-tariff barriers such as strict quarantine standards, coupled with the low capacity of national biosecurity authorities to overcome the hurdle of these standards
  • The need to increase the proportion of GDP from logging by focusing on high value timber and attracting investment required to maximize domestic value-adding before exports, but without exceeding the estimated allowable annual cut

The Food and Nutritional Security Challenges to Pacific Agriculture

The LRD Issue Paper lays out the following food and nutritional security challenges to Pacific agriculture:

  • The increased availability of cheap imported food has contributed to a reduced availability and displacement of traditional nutritionally valuable staple foods, and increased availability of foods associated with chronic non-communicable diseases; the resulting need to prioritise opportunities for import substation
  • The narrow genetic base of most Pacific Island crops that increases the risk of these crops succumbing to disease and natural disasters; the consequent need to monitor pests and diseases and ensure the research and breeding programmes are in place to manage any outbreaks.
  • The need to assist farmers with methods of sustaining production during or otherwise coping with extreme weather events; and balancing the need for resilient varieties of crops with the need to enable farmers to produce varieties that sell well in sophisticated markets such as hotels and supermarkets.
  •  The need to produce and disseminate crops that are better adapted to cope with the challenges associated with climate change such as drought, floods, higher rates of salinity and pests and diseases.  The LRD Issue Paper underlines the work of the LRD Genetic Resources team with its Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees, which conserves and makes available for utilization thousands of varieties of Pacific crops.

The Natural Resource Challenges to Pacific Agriculture

The LRD Issue Paper lays out the following natural resource challenges to Pacific agriculture:

  • In the Pacific, about 70% of agriculture is rain fed.  Subsequently, predictions of prolonged variations in normal rainfall patterns wrought by climate change could be potentially devastating for agriculture in the region.
  • Rising temperatures will change the distribution of pests, invasive species and diseases in the region.
  • The increasing frequency and severity risk of natural disasters such as cyclones, as well as new pest and disease incursions directly threaten agricultural productivity.
  • The special vulnerability of PICTs to the impacts of climate change and natural disasters, especially due to cyclones
  • The particular vulnerability of commercial farming – compared to traditionally resilient subsistence farming – to natural disasters.
  • The move to intensive cultivation over the last generation, but the failure of sustainable land management practices such as such as better crop husbandry, use of compost, natural pesticides, crop rotation and soil management practices, to keep pace; and the consequent need to demonstrate to farmers the economic benefits of sustainable land management practices.
  • The lack of qualified veterinarians and animal production specialists, given that an estimated 70 per cent of all emerging and remerging disease in humans originates from animals.
  • Traditional government agricultural extension services, as currently structured and funded, face challenges in human and financial resources and cannot meet the diverse needs of farmers in training and information required to adopt the new technologies and approaches.
  • The need to make use of the benefits of ICT and mobile phone-based applications to help farmers with information on improved crop management, pest and disease management; whilst integrating this new technology with social learning in traditional kinship networks.
  • The need to better link farmers to markets and to find ways to develop new, successful models of collaboration between private sector buyers and farmers, taking a value chain approach. The LRD Issue Paper underlines new work to fulfil this need that is driven by or that involves LRD – for example the Improving Key Services to Agriculture project and the Integrated Crop Management project.


Developing Strategic Response to Threats to Pacific Agriculture

The LRD Issue Paper underlines the following additional challenges for Pacific agriculture:

  • The lack of or inadequate, policies and legislative frameworks governing the management of forests; and where legislation for sustainable forestry does exist, there is a lack of enforcement of the legislation.
  • Given that most forest is based on customary land; the need to develop community-based sustainable forest management.  THe LRD Issue Paper underlines the work of Reduced Emission from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and REDD+, and SPC’s role in supporting countries to implement national sustainable forest management practices.
  • The need to reduce the endemic departure of youth from the agricultural sector in search of formal employment, through offering improved income opportunities to participants; the role of LRD in coordinating regional activities linked to national level implementation of the Youth in Agriculture Strategy.

In terms of developing a strategic response for Pacific agriculture the LRD Issue Paper notes the following:

  • The need to develop effective regional and national response strategies, utilizing better evidence-based approaches to policy making. The role of LRD in developing and assisting development of Regional and National Sector policies, to set out a course of action for the next three to ten years and beyond.
  • To serve the purpose of improved evidence-based policy, improving timely agriculture data collection, systematization and reporting is a high priority regional need.  LRD will work with stakeholders to shore up existing approaches and develop new approaches to data collection for the agriculture sector.
  • The need to carry out more regular policy analysis that provides specific recommendations that feed into specific action plans.

Long-Term Priorities

This section is quoted verbatim as it is a tightly worded statement of LRD priorities.

“To guide the Land Resources Division in its work over the course of the next corporate plan and indeed the next decade, it is important we get your help, and hear your voice, in mapping out the long-term priorities.

These include:

  1. To improve sustainable food and nutritional security
  2. To improve sustainable land, agriculture and forestry resources development; and
  3. To improve sustainable economic development

To improve sustainable food and nutritional security, we will:

Build the capacity of communities to access, produce and utilize crop, tree and livestock diversity including the climate change ready root and tree crop planting material

Build the capacity of communities to access locally produced, nutritious foods

To improve sustainable land, agriculture and forestry resource development, we will:

Build capacity in land, agriculture and forestry policy analysis through the adoption of evidence-based systems of policy development

Build the capacity of communities to sustainably manage their land, agriculture and forestry resources through the adoption of new production, management and information and communication technologies

Build the capacity of our national authorities to monitor and eliminate strategic threats cause by new pest and disease incursions; and

Improve the resilience of our communities to the risks posed by climate change, such as the increased frequency and severity of natural disasters

To improve sustainable economic development, we will:

Build the capacity of our agribusiness and agroforestry enterprises to access existing high-value market opportunities, both at home and abroad;

Build the capacity of our national authorities to open up access to new markets by reducing non-tariff barriers to our fresh food products”

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