In 2008 the Australian Government committed to a new and elevated engagement (Pacific Partnerships for Development) with Pacific island partners to work together to meet common challenges, raise the standard of living for people throughout the region and, in particular, make more-rapid progress towards our partners achieving the MDGs and individual-country development ambitions. The priorities for each Pacific island country (PIC) are articulated in the individual-country partnership ‘frameworks’. They typically include measures aimed at improving economic infrastructure and enhancing local employment possibilities through both infrastructure and broad-based economic growth, as well as enhancing private-sector development. ACIAR works closely with AusAID to develop complementary and jointly funded projects aimed at assessing these national development priorities and regional issues. For example, the ACIAR-funded Pacific Agribusiness Research for Development Initiative (PARDI) has been designed to provide, among other objectives, research and technical underpinning for the AusAID-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Program (PHAMA). PHAMA is designed to assist PICs to gain and maintain access to key markets for selected high-value Pacific products.
ACIAR’s program in the PICs embraces Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Samoa, Tonga and Kiribati. Agriculture, forestry and fisheries sustain many households in these countries, and supply the majority of livelihoods and food security. The ACIAR strategy works towards underpinning the competitiveness and security of these sectors. Women, in particular, have a central role in household food gardening, tree crop production, and marketing of horticultural, tree crop and fisheries products. To achieve sustainable change, ACIAR will help develop innovative approaches that engage, empower and invest in women.
Transforming these agricultural, fisheries and forestry systems into sustainable income-generating activities through improved productivity and marketing will enhance food security and self-reliance, and reduce poverty. Key challenges for ACIAR and its partner agencies include the physical isolation of PICs, poor transportation logistics exacerbated by increasing transport costs, human and organisational capacity constraints, land tenure disputes and uncertainties, a lack of infrastructure, poorly developed supply chains, a lack of harmonisation between countries (e.g. in biosecurity laws), small national populations and economies, and the need to link with major domestic and international markets. In addition, erosion of tariff preferences; population and urban growth; migration of skilled labour; resource depletion and degradation; risks from climate change; high, fluctuating food and energy prices; and political and economic constraints to effective policy implementation are also recognised as significant impediments to development and progress.
ACIAR recognises the need to investigate individual PIC priorities arising from differences in climate and soils, availability of natural resources, institutional capacity, infrastructure and potential for economic growth. At the same time, the Centre acknowledges that many challenges are common and are best tackled through regional collaboration. ACIAR will therefore support targeted and mutually agreed single-country projects on major issues of concern. Where possible, however, these will be linked closely with regional extension and community development programs to foster opportunities for dissemination of information among countries. ACIAR has a strong emphasis on working with Pacific regional organisations (e.g. the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the University of the South Pacific (USP)) and other donor agencies in the design and implementation of these initiatives, to ensure that R&D efforts are targeted towards agreed national and regional priorities, and to deliver outputs effectively.
In agriculture, the program will focus on adaptation to changes in climate, and on identification and management of constraints to productivity and market engagement in both staple root and high-value crops. It will assist in identifying suitable markets and in developing new high-value horticultural crops (fruits, vegetables and ornamentals) and products derived from them for domestic, regional and international markets. In fisheries, ACIAR will focus on managing sustainable production from oceanic and inshore fisheries, developing alternatives through aquaculture, and increasing economic returns through improved product quality and better market linkages. The forestry program will promote the development of value-adding forest industries, whereby landowners will derive benefits from both timber and non-timber forest products. There will be increased attention to the development and strengthening of integration between production systems and markets through efficient and equitable value chains. The program also has a strong emphasis on building R&D capacity within the region. In partnership with USP, ACIAR has implemented a postgraduate training program designed to increase capacity in the Pacific region through scholarships for research associated with relevant ACIAR projects.
Priorities for ACIAR–PICs cooperation are reviewed and updated in regular consultation with relevant government, community and private-sector stakeholders. Forestry consultations were held in Vanuatu in December 2011. In addition, ACIAR attends regional priority-setting meetings, including those of the Regional Conference of Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services and SPC Heads of Fisheries. ACIAR also participates actively in the Joint Country Strategy process of SPC.
Key areas identified as research priorities across the medium term include:
- Improving food and nutritional security
- Identification, development and adoption of new, market-driven opportunities for improving the quality, accessibility, diversity and quantity of food and other agricultural crops
- Development, adaptation and adoption of integrated and sustainable management practices for food and other agricultural crops
- Integrated and sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry resource management and development
- Resource assessment, and the development and implementation of sustainable management plans, with an emphasis on community engagement and increased community-level co-management
- Identification and development of new opportunities for fisheries, aquaculture and forestry, including the domestication of native species
- Enhancement of germplasm availability and management of high-value species
- Underpinning the competitiveness of agriculture, fisheries and forestry value chains
- Implementation of interventions, underpinned by appropriate market and farming systems research, to improve the efficiencies of value chains and enhance smallholder participation in local, domestic and international markets
- Identification and analysis of processing and value-adding opportunities for agriculture, fisheries and forestry products, and the development of interventions to facilitate these opportunities
- Identification of quarantine risk issues, and the development and adoption of management strategies to minimise these risks.