The EU SAFE Pacific (Safe Agricultural Trade and Facilitation through Economic Integration) project played an integral role in the Pacific Week of Agriculture and Forestry (PWAF) held from 6 – 10 March in Nadi, Fiji through events focused on strengthening agricultural value chains.
Held biennially, PWAF is the premier event for charting the future of agriculture and forestry in the Pacific region. In addition to three days of side events, the week also featured the 8th Pacific Heads of Agriculture and Forestry meeting, in addition to the 3rd Pacific Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry meeting. The five day event brought together Pacific governments, NGOs, community-based organisations and the private sector and was hosted by the Government of Fiji, with management support from the Pacific Community (SPC) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
SAFE Pacific hosted two events during the week that looked forward to stronger and more resilient agriculture in the region after three-years of COVID-19 disruption.
Managing Agricultural Risks to enhance Pacific Agritrade
The “Managing Agricultural Risks to enhance Pacific Agritrade” event was opened by Fiji’s Minister for Agriculture and Waterways Hon. Vatimi Rayalu, who said, “This discussion on managing agricultural risks comes at a crucial time as the Pacific works towards COVID-19 recovery. As the Pacific, we understand our context clearly – the potential we have for trade with our rich resources, the existing barriers we face because of our geographical location and socio-economic history and politics.”
The Minister acknowledged the support of the EU through the SAFE Pacific project and reiterated the need for a robust regional approach to Disaster Risk Reduction in agriculture.
Event participants discussed Pacific agriculture sector DRR knowledge gaps, solutions and strategies to reduce agricultural value chain risks and potential ways forward for regional approaches to improve resilience.
SPC also addressed pest and disease risks in the region, focusing on the upcoming 17th Pacific Games in Honiara, Solomon Islands, in November of this year.
A joint call by SPC, the Pacific Plant Protection Organisation (PPPO) and Biosecurity Solomon Islands (BSI) urged countries to ensure that biosecurity travel precautions for the Pacific Games are met to prevent pest and disease entry and spread into the region.
Through the SAFE Pacific project, SPC has planned biosecurity surveillance activities for priority pests pre- and post-games, including monitoring and detection. In addition, animal health and production will be strengthened through organised training on food hygiene and safety. Awareness materials will be distributed, and screening and inspection will be increased closer to the games.
SPC is also carrying out an active awareness campaign on Foot and Mouth Disease (an animal disease that infects cloven-hoofed animals) and is working to prevent and stop incursions. Through SAFE Pacific, the FMD Awareness pull-up banners are being displayed at international airports in Fiji, Samoa and the Solomon Islands, with plans to extend this to the remaining targeted countries: Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Pacific Kava: Rooting the industry in exports
The potential for kava exports to major markets in North America, Asia and the European Union was explored during the “Pacific Kava: Rooting the industry in exports” event.
The event was organised by SPC in partnership with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) and funded through SAFE Pacific.
The session brought together public and private sector stakeholders, Pacific government representatives, non-governmental organisations, farmers and exporters from across the region. An organised panel provided a space to reflect on the progress of the kava sector nationally, with several Pacific countries reporting on their current kava status, as well as regionally.
During the opening address, Assistant Minister-Office of the Prime Minister for Fiji Sakiusa Tubuna said kava is a significant commodity for the Pacific Islands culturally, socially and economically.
“Today, the interest in kava is not exclusive to Pacific people. There’s been a transition over the past few decades, where the plant has become a growing export commodity. We’ve seen this Pacific plant go beyond being a cultural beverage – with kava-infused food and even entry into pharmaceuticals.”
Samoa kava exporter Eddie Wilson said it was important to look at past experiences when European markets first banned kava and the current regional effort to regain market access by improving local kava standards for processing and exporting it as a safe food commodity.
“The success of the kava was because we had huge markets for kava extract and medicinal markets. The future lies in working with our partners, the European Union and Germany and promote kava extracts in the medicinal markets and increase recognition of kava as a safe commodity.”
The event served as the announcement of a Regional Kava Strategy launch, that will take place in July. Strategy development is being led by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, and includes plans to organise kava strategic working group meetings that will be followed by regional socialization.
Eighth Regional Meeting of the Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services
Toward the end of the week, the EU affirmed its commitment to support the region’s fight against climate change and to promote sustainable food systems through a presentation by EU Programme Manager Mr. Alejandro Matos-Lopez at the regional meeting of Pacific Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services.
“Agriculture represents one of the main sources of employment and livelihoods in the Pacific region, especially in rural and more vulnerable areas,” said Matos-Lopez. “Moreover, Pacific Island Countries and Territories live on the frontline of climate change and have described it as the single greatest existential threat facing the Blue Pacific”.
He said increased natural disasters would significantly impact Pacific ecosystems, water resources, agriculture and fisheries.
The EU presence at PWAF 2023 highlighted three areas of support for the Pacific.
The EU provides budget support for vital Pacific based programmes through the the Governments of Fiji, Vanuatu, and later in 2023 Tuvalu, to implement their agriculture policies and promote climate-smart agriculture practices and sustainable food systems.
The EU also promotes Pacific agri-trade, the strengthening Sanitary and Phytosanitary measures, and conservation of local ecosystems in partnership with regional and UN agencies.
Finally, the EU provides direct support to farmers and farmer organisations through programmes with civil society organisations that follow an inclusive approach by promoting the role of women and youth in agriculture, organic agriculture and agroforestry systems.
During the week, PWAF participants, including Pacific government representatives and Ministers, found SAFE Pacific awareness materials and information at the SPC booth.
SAFE Pacific is part of the larger EU-funded ‘Pacific Regional Integration Support’ (PRISE) programme implemented in 15 Pacific ACP (African, Caribbean, Pacific) States: the Cook Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.