The islands of the Pacific region are among our closest neighbours and many of their small national populations and economies have been hard hit by the global financial crisis, and in particular rising food and fuel prices. As a regional neighbour, Australia is well placed to work closely with government and civil society to improve their development. The Australian Government has 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 their 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. Key challenges in achieving these measures include the islands’ physical isolation, human and organisational capacity constraints, land tenure disputes and uncertainties, lack of infrastructure, poor transportation logistics, poorly developed supply chains, lack of harmonisation between countries (e.g. in biosecurity laws), 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 and 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’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 as well as 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.