Sea cucumbers are worth $20-50 million/year in exports from Pacific island countries; the second most valuable marine export from the region after tuna. Wild harvests provide a source of income to around 300,000 small-scale fishers in the western Pacific. But returns to fishers are less than optimal, largely due to poor knowledge of proper post-harvest handling and processing methods. The aim of this project is to improve the income of fishers in Kiribati, Tonga and Fiji through improving the quality of post-harvest processing. The research will assess which processing methods are adoptable and produce better products and higher market prices. It will also investigate which community types gain most from information and training. Impact testing will determine whether the support provided results in fishers spending more time value-adding to their wild captures and less time fishing, benefiting sustainability of the industry. The main outputs will be training workshops for fisheries officers and village fishers in postharvest processing, and a manual and training DVD on processing methods (in the local languages). A quantitative analysis of economic and livelihood impacts will also help inform future investments.
The project faced significant delays in getting the agreements finalised with all collaborating organisations, but has progressed well to get the deliverables back on track. Training activities have built capacity in the collaborating organisations and the project is well positioned to enter into an exciting 2nd year that will focus on the training of village fishers in postharvest processing methods.
An impasse in partnering with the Department of Fisheries, Fiji, delayed the delivery of baseline socio-economic surveys in Fiji. Much time was also spent in the negotiations and finding a new Fijian partner organisation, which compromised the timetable for field work. We were fortunate to partner with a non-governmental organisation, Partners in Community Development Fiji (PCDF), to take over the coordination of field work in Fiji. This required a budget variation and new collaborating agreement between the commissioned agency and PCDF, which is now conducting the field operations in Fiji.
Extension field officers at PCDF were trained by the Project Leader in conducting the project’s socio-economic surveys. One-quarter of the surveys have been conducted with fishers in Fiji, at 15 villages in four districts on three islands. Commercial processors and exporters on the three islands were also surveyed.
Technical officers were recruited to the collaborating organisations in Kiribati and Tonga to work on this project. They will take on the majority of the ground work to deliver village workshops in 2014-2015.
The postharvest processing manual for fishers has taken longer than expected to finalise, owing to delays in typesetting. On the other hand, the manuals are of an exceptional standard and we anticipate that they will be ready in time for the village workshops.
A 3-day ‘train-the-trainer’ workshop was successfully held at a commercial processing plant for beche-de-mer in Lautoka, Fiji, in April 2014. The workshop was attended by the team members from Kiribati, Tonga and Fiji, to build technical capacity in postharvest processing techniques. The technical officers in each country will receive additional training from commercial processors in their own countries.
We had a Project Team Meeting in Nadi, Fiji, in April 2014 to review the project’s work plan, exchange ideas about delivery of village workshops and follow-up surveys, discuss about data management and dissemination activities, and establish in-house policy on reporting and financial management.
Based on data collected in the preluding Scoping Study, scientific articles were published in peer-reviewed and non-peer-reviewed journals, comprising Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, PLoS One and SPC Beche-de-mer Information Bulletin. A popular media article was also published in New Agriculturist.
The past year has seen fantastic progress on research and community development in the project. At the half-way point in the project, we have successfully delivered on all of the activities that were proposed to have been completed by this stage. The collaborating partners in Kiribati, Fiji and Tonga should be commended for their continued motivation and strong efforts to put the project in such a strong position.
The only major downside for the project is that the ministries of fisheries in Tonga and Kiribati have imposed moratoria on the sea cucumber fisheries due to the risk of overfishing. This means that fishers cannot immediately apply the new postharvest processing methods and will be unable to complete the research components of the project in those two countries unless the fisheries re-open in the near future.
Through the Fijian collaborating organisation, Partners in Community Development Fiji, we completed the baseline socio-economic surveys of fishers in Fiji. In total, 235 fishers were surveyed across 35 fishing villages in 8 geographic locations in Fiji. The data will form the basis for before-vs-after comparisons to statistically test the project’s impacts in the last year. More commercial processors and exporters were also interviewed.
The team made sensational progress on the three capacity-building interventions:
Postharvest processing manual: the 44-page manual was printed and distributed to each of the three countries in June 2014. In total, 5300 copies were produced: 800 English, 2000 Fijian, 1000 Tongan and 1500 Kiribati. As anticipated in the last annual report, these were ready in time for distribution in the village workshops.
Training video: the postharvest processing training video was produced by a film studio in Fiji and finalised at the end of 2014. Four language versions were produced: English, Fijian, Tongan and Kiribati. DVD copies were made in early 2015 and are being distributed to around 30 villages in each country. The videos are available on YouTube (with sensational view count), an SCU website, and an ACIAR website.
Village based workshops: we have done about three-quarters of the village-based workshops on postharvest processing methods in each country. Participant satisfaction, and participation by women, has been high.
A policy article, supported by this project, was recently published in Frontiers in Marine Science. A publication overviewing postharvest processing methods in the Pacific, written by the JAF-supported PhD student Ravinesh Ram, was accepted for publication. A scientific article about patterns of fishing of sea cucumbers in the Pacific countries has been drafted and will be soon submitted for a peer-reviewed publication. Numerous media articles about the project were published, notably by the project partners at PCDF in Fiji.
Great progress was achieved on project deliverables over the past year, despite some major impediments. In 2015, the team in Fiji successfully finished the village-based workshops to train fishers in postharvest processing of sea cucumbers. The follow-up socioeconomic surveys commenced and have continued to progress well, providing the data that will be used to determine whether the project has caused measurable socioeconomic impacts. The efforts and commitment of the collaborating partners has kept this award-winning project in strong position to deliver on its objectives.
Tropical cyclone Winston caused devastation in Fiji and damaged some homes and crops in Tonga. In Fiji, damage was severe in at least eight of the project villages, and moderate/bad in another dozen project villages.
Fisheries in Kiribati and Tonga remained closed in 2016. Consequently, the project has discontinued plans to carry out the follow-up socioeconomic surveys and instead will conduct a market study in China and carry out two other studies using the project data.
Collaborating statisticians from the University of Wollongong formally joined the project team. The partnership has led to more robust analyses of trends in the baseline data, and is expected to yield powerful analyses of socioeconomic impact next year.