May 29, 2020 Last Updated 7:29 AM, May 29, 2020

The need for Pacific island agricultural exporters to target niche markets has long been accepted wisdom. A report produced by the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access (PHAMA Plus) program late last year shows in figures, exactly why it’s so critical.

The Pacific Export Context Analysis looks at cocoa, coffee, coconut products and palm oil price fluctuations since 2009 and notes that in real terms, the USD prices of the major export commodities show an uptrend over the last 20 years. However prices have often strengthened during the first half of that period and softened in the second half.

“When it’s a global commodity; cocoa, coffee, sugar it can’t just be put into basically a bulk bin,” says  Bronwyn Wiseman, Biosecurity and Trade Development Adviser at PHAMA Plus. She says in the scheme of things, PNG and Solomon Islands are “tiny cocoa and coffee producers, they’ve generally gone into the bulk market, so they’re totally controlled by global prices.”

Hence the need for niche markets. Wiseman says niches can be defined in a variety of ways, including product quality and marketing.

Meanwhile the challenges facing Pacific exporters have remained largely unchanged for years, although in some instances, they have intensified.

PHAMA Plus Biosecurity and Environmental Safeguard Advisor, Tanuvasa Semy Siakimotu says these challenges include the cost, accessibility and reliability of transportation, sustainability of supply, market awareness, branding, certification, verification of legal origin, issues of land tenure and land disputes,  and the ongoing impacts of climate change.

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Agriculture: Generation Farm

  • May 30, 2020
  • Published in March

On sweltering day in Suva this month, a sea of proud agriculture students decked out in bright blue graduation gowns and salusalus (garlands) posed for selfies with their families. Graduates of the Fiji National University’s Bachelor of Science (Agriculture) program, shared why they studied agriculture.

“I’m from a farming background, my father is a farmer. So that encouraged me to join the field of agriculture. I want to pursue this in the field, so this was theory, I want to do it in the field,” said Shayal from Fiji’s ‘salad bowl’, the fertile area of Sigatoka.

In its 2017 report, The Future of Work, the International Labour Organisation stated that the relative value added by the agricultural sector is significant, 22 per cent if PNG is included and 15 per cent if it is not, and that in terms of employment by sector, agriculture employs an average of 67.3 per cent of workforces in Pacific Island countries.

The ILO contends that Pacific employment growth opportunities lay in few key sectors: agriculture, forestry, mining, fishing, tourism and business process outsourcing. Its authors write that agriculture continues to be the region’s main employer, absorbing the growing labour force: “There is potential for formal employment in agriculture to expand, especially if PIC governments pursue strategies to support agricultural niche products, use ICT for agriculture, and expand linkages between agriculture and tourism.” 

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World class cocoa

  • May 30, 2020
  • Published in August
Pacific cocoa contenders at global awards

Three SouthPacific cocoa operators have been named amongst the top 50 cocoa producers from around the world and will participate in the prestigious International Cocoa Awards (ICA) in France in October. They are Manoa Raika Farm from Savusavu, Fiji and two Papua New Guinea producers: Solita Cocoa Farm from Kundiawa and the Charis Cluster Group from Poro.

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Papua New Guinea has been advised to tweak its macroeconomic policy and throw more weight behind agriculture, as it has the potential to enable more diversified and inclusive development.  

The World Bank makes this recommendation  in its latest newsletter Pacific Possible. It warns of rising economic uncertainty and fragile growth in PNG and recommends that authorities focus on structural transformation of the economy, especially in the agriculture sector, to help absorb any shocks.  

"Around 87 per cent of Papua New Guineans live in rural areas, and 75 per cent of these are engaged in a variety of subsistence and cash income agriculture activities. Staple products are the main source of subsistence, provide food energy and protein, and are a source of food security for rural villagers when income-earning opportunities are limited," the reports states.

"While most rural villagers combine these traditional subsistence and cash income activities, there is a small but increasing number producing value-added products such as high-value coconut products and spices."

Agriculture is one of the priority sectors in the government’s Medium-Term Development Plan for 2018–22 (MTDP III.

"To utilise the potential of agriculture as a source of income and job creation, the authorities should consider a proposed set of policy options and responses for securing sustainable rural livelihoods in food and agriculture," the World Bank says.

The resource-rich nation of over eight million people is home to a number of multi-billion dollar minerals projects and is vulnerable to substantial commodity price shocks, natural disasters and uncertainty in the performance of new and existing minerals projects. 

Its agricultural sector includes fresh food and export products like coffee, cocoa, palm oil, and copra and copra oil. 

JACKSSON Kalses describes himself as a small-time farmer in east Efate, the island in which Port Vila, the national capital of Vanuatu sits. From the income he gets from his vegetable farm of mainly cabbage, tomato and beans, Kalses provides for his young family including his three children who currently attend elementary school. “I have up to five hectares of land but I only farm about one hectare of that,” Kalses tells me.

“I’ve been farming for the last two to three years now, selling mostly to supermarkets and to the Central Market in Port Vila sometimes. I also do sell some vegetables to Iririki Island Resort, but I’m not a big supplier.” As if reading my mind, Kalses didn’t wait for my next question as he remarked: “My biggest problem is water. During the off-season, I am unable to grow many vegetables due to lack of rain.

“This usually happens during the months of August to December every year....

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