In Spring 2019 I had the privilege to attend the Pacific Week of Agriculture in Apia, Samoa. The theme of the conference was “Enhanced Partnerships for Sustainable Agriculture and Forestry Systems in the Pacific”. The conference was attended by delegates from the majority of nations in the South Pacific. Delegates came together at the conference to highlight the research and different projects that had been undertaken in the South Pacific in recent years, all with the goal of improving the sustainability of the current agricultural systems in place.
A major threat facing agriculture in the South Pacific is soil degradation caused by continuous same species cropping and lack of inputs. The impact of this is already being felt throughout the South Pacific in the form of reducing yields and reliance on imported food products for survival. Dr Ben McDonald from CSIRO is one of many researchers working in this space conducting crop trials in conjunction with local researchers to combat the issue of soil degradation.
The University of the South Pacific (USP) is also conducting research and trials into improving the agricultural systems currently employed throughout many of the South Pacific Nations. The USP campus in Apia has recently discovered that sheep can be run in conjunction with a taro crop as the sheep do not browse taro plants. Small discoveries such as this are important in the South Pacific as they enable landholders to have multiple enterprises providing monetary and ecological benefits.
A team from CSIRO was present at the conference as part of the Pacific Soils Partnership. They presented the work that they have been doing in the South Pacific funded by Australian Government aid. Seeing the impact of Australian aid funding on the lives of land holders in the South Pacific highlighted the important role that Australia plays in leading the South Pacific region in advancing agricultural practices and technology.
The conference also highlighted the potential to utilise agriculture as a way to combat domestic violence in the South Pacific. Typically, in South Pacific Nations women and girls do not earn their own incomes and this limits the potential for them to leave violent situations. The conference touched on this and highlighted the need for it to become socially respectable for women and girls to work in agriculture, this would provide them with an income and options.
The conference was an excellent opportunity to understand the agricultural systems Australia’s closest neighbours employ and how Australian aid funding facilitated through organisations such as CSIRO and ACIAR can make a difference in the everyday lives of people from the South Pacific.