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 ACIAR 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. This approach recognises that such single-country projects will be linked closely with regional extension and community development programs to foster opportunities for dissemination of information and lessons learned across PICs. ACIAR has a strong emphasis on working with Pacific regional organisations (e.g. the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and 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 target agreed national and regional priorities and deliver outputs effectively.
ACIAR also works closely with other Australian agencies 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 Australian-funded Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access program (PHAMA). Now in its second phase of implementation, PHAMA is designed to assist PICs to gain and maintain access to key markets for selected high-value Pacific products.
In agriculture the program will focus 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. Maintaining soil health as production systems are intensified is recognised across the region as a key issue in ensuring sustainability. In the fisheries sector 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.
In recent years the program has also placed increasing emphasis on building R&D capacity within the region. In particular, a postgraduate training scheme has offered at least 10 scholarships per year for students from the region to study for a higher degree at USP, conducting their thesis research in association with relevant ACIAR projects. An external review conducted at the end of 2013, noting the contribution the scholarships have made to research capacity in the Pacific islands, has made recommendations to continue and strengthen the scheme, with increased inputs of Australian expertise.
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, Solomon Islands in March 2012 and Fiji in August 2012. 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 through new, market-driven opportunities and promotion of sustainable production practices for food and other agricultural crops
- integrated and sustainable agriculture, fisheries and forestry resource management and development
- underpinning the competitiveness of agriculture, fisheries and forestry value chains.