Regional Achievements from 2013-14 Annual Report

In Vanuatu smallholder cocoa farmers are linking up with Australian and US chocolate makers enabling new economic opportunities through ACIAR’s PARDI. Recently PARDI linked the farmers with chocolate manufacturers Bahen & Co and Haigh’s Chocolates, where they tasted chocolate samples and discovered the reasons for producing better cocoa using improved methods of drying and fermenting.

The strong collaborative effort to support the recovery of the Samoan taro industry after devastation by taro leaf blight was showcased during a recent visit by Australia’s Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator the Hon. Brett Mason. Before the leaf blight arrived in 1993 taro exports provided over half of Samoa’s foreign exchange earnings and taro was clearly the country’s preferred staple food. Within a year of the disease’s arrival both exports and the local market for taro collapsed. It has taken 2 decades of concerted international effort to get to the stage where taro is again in surplus on the local market and Samoa can re-enter international export markets.

The trouble with growing tomatoes in most Pacific islands—at least the ‘high islands’, with mountains down the middle—is that it’s too wet on one side (facing the trade winds) and too dry on the other (in the ‘rain shadow’ of the mountains). Protected cropping, using a greenhouse in combination with irrigation, can in principle offer a neat solution for smallholder farmers, protecting their tomatoes and other high-value vegetables from the extremes of climate, and allowing production all year round. An ACIAR project is working with an importer in Fiji to source models from China that are cheap enough for growers to afford but strong enough to stand up to normal tropical storms. The project’s innovative greenhouses are much taller and have a netting-covered vent at the ridge. This design keeps rain and insects out but lets the heat escape. Other ACIAR research is helping smallholder farmers in Fiji and Solomon Islands to understand what demanding markets such as tourist hotels require, and to equip them with the skills they’ll need to supply them.

An ACIAR-funded study on nutritionally rich leafy vegetables in the Pacific region has identified the ‘Top 10’ and produced a series of fact sheets to explain their value to researchers, health workers, educators and the community at large. The study’s goal is to encourage the production and consumption of these important food crops, to help combat the current epidemic of diet-related diseases in Pacific islanders and Indigenous Australians.

The project to use stems of senile coconut palms to produce high-quality veneers and soil-improving materials (e.g. mulches) continues to make substantial progress. It is hoped that veneers, made by peeling the coconut trees, can be used for benchtops, flooring and other high-value products, or as formwork for concrete pouring, since the coco-veneer gives such a smooth finish. Their production involves sophisticated lathe technology and ACIAR has provided funds to install a spindleless lathe in Fiji. In the first year highly successful trials have focused on understanding the parameters required for optimising high-quality veneer production.. The next stage will involve Fijian, Samoan and Solomon Islands project staff in peeling trials to build up their expertise.

ACIAR’s soil health project is working with communities in Kiribati on making compost and increasing the production of vegetables for home consumption and sale. The project team is addressing both issues of poor soil health and poor human health from inadequate nutrition. Various compost mixes and procedures are being tested at eight sites, and early results look promising in terms of improving the soil and boosting vegetable production. Training activities have also been successfully held to build capacity of local researchers in measuring soil components, and to teach growers about soil health and composting methods.