Achievements from 2011-12 Annual Report
Researchers studying soil fertility and biological soil health at different sites in Kiribati, Fiji and Samoa have identified possible ways to overcome low levels of organic carbon in agricultural soils (less than 0.5%), poor water retention and high-levels of lime-induced chlorosis of plants. In Kiribati some soil samples taken from traditional taro pits had the opposite characteristics and were a testimony to the power of composting and soil management in improving soil health in these atoll soils. In addition, when the team explored composting options and strategies in Tarawa, they found that organic municipal waste could be utilised in small peri-urban vegetable gardens, and these materials could be augmented with other sources from coconut wastes, leaf litter and seaweed.
The discoveries of Asian honeybees on Guadalcanal and Savo islands in Solomon Islands coincided with the demise of most managed European honeybee colonies and the total cessation of honey production. Since permanent eradication was judged impossible, the project focused on temporary suppression of the Asian honeybees. Based on a method used successfully elsewhere, the broad-spectrum insecticide fipronil was offered to foraging bees at ‘bait-stations’, allowing the lured bees to return to their hives, where the poison is dispersed and destroys the colonies. Used in conjunction with a modified hive that restricts entry to thieving Asian honeybees, this method will enable the development of beekeeping to resume in Solomon Islands. Ongoing extension activities will be needed to ensure that these benefits are realised, but the income generated through this project will flow through to whole families and village groups, with particular benefits for women and children.
Expansion of the Canarium nut industry has great potential to improve the livelihoods of rural households in Pacific island countries and PNG. A major constraint to commercialisation of this industry has been poor quality of the nuts due to traditional postharvest handling, whereby nuts were cracked by hand using stone hammers. A project has now developed a drying regime that results in high-quality nuts, and two types of nutcracker suitable for Canarium processing have been adapted from the macadamia industry. One processor in Vanuatu who was previously freezing nut products is now selling Canarium nut products based on drying protocols, and the project has led to additional processors emerging in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu. The packaged product is now sold in the supermarkets in Port Vila.
The underlying principle in forest health surveillance is that early detection of a pest problem allows more scope for its management. ACIAR and its partners have invested substantially over time to develop early detection systems to protect plantations (in particular) and native forests in Fiji, Vanuatu and Australia. An earlier research group developed a combination of insect traps and lures that was effective in attracting all the main groups of wood-boring insects. These have been employed in more recent activities, leading to successful strengthening of Fijian capacity to routinely monitor plantations, nurseries and hazard sites for exotic insect pests. Vanuatu also now has a core group trained in basic skills of surveillance/static trapping, with institutional support to continue to develop that expertise.
Work to resolve the key technical issues surrounding the processing of fibre from harvested coconut stems—known as cocowood—found that the fibre can be successfully processed using traditional wood machinery to produce a high-value flooring product. Demand for cocowood flooring products was proven during the project, and beneficial impacts for communities (such as employment, skills, income and more productive land use) could emerge from a sustainable harvesting and primary processing sector. Since only the outer annulus of hard fibre is suitable for flooring, the project team also investigated and developed secondary products derived from the softer core portion of the stem. This material was found to be suitable as growing media, and it could be used to bolster the organic composition of poor soils in Pacific islands as well as to develop the floriculture and horticulture industries in Fiji, Samoa and beyond.
After evaluation of four strains of giant freshwater prawn (one each from Fiji, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia), the strain from Vietnam has been selected for future development of the freshwater prawn culture industry in Fiji. Broodstock from this high-performing strain were formally handed over to Fiji Government officials in June 2011. At the conclusion of the project Fijian farmers had a productive culture stock along with a low-cost feed formulation for prawns that incorporates local feed ingredients. In parallel, hatchery practices have been improved to maintain supply of post-larval prawns to local farmers. These ongoing issues have hindered development of the industry, and their resolution has sparked a renewed interest among farmers in prawn culture.