FAO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific
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Strengthening Solomon Islands’ microbiological food testing capacity

26/09/2018 Honiara, Solomon Islands

Solomon Islands is developing its microbiological testing capacity of the National Public Health Laboratory for fish exports, and local food and water through a three year capacity building project, which is funded by the Standards and Trade Development Facility (STDF) of the World Trade Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).  

The National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL) in Honiara, Solomon Islands is implementing the project with in-kind contributions from the Ministry of Health and Medical Services (MHMS) and local support from the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Program (PHAMA).

The STDF project is titled – Strengthening the capacity of the National Public Health Laboratory to provide services in support of market access for Solomon Island fish exporters. The FAO project is called – Strengthening the sustainability of Solomon Islands National Public Health Laboratory to obtain and maintain international accreditation. FAO will lead the projects, which runs from June 2017 to May 2020.

Upon completion, the projects will enable the NPHL to comply with international microbiological food testing standards. Laboratory staff will be trained and essential quality systems put in place to comply with international standards and good practice techniques. By the end of the project in 2020 it is anticipated that the laboratory will be assessed as ready for ISO 17025 certification for microbiological testing by a relevant international accreditation body for example, International Accreditation New Zealand (IANZ).

Cawthron Institute of New Zealand is the service provider contracted by FAO to provide the technical expertise on microbiological laboratory capacity development to achieve ISO 17025.

Since the projects inception meeting in September 2017, two Cawthron technical experts travelled to Honiara and assisted with developing testing capacity at the NPHL. They also established testing protocols, developed quality systems and updated key government officials and industry stakeholders on the project progress. NPHL staff are being trained in Honiara and will have further training at the Cawthron laboratory in Nelson, New Zealand.

A one-day technical workshop was conducted in April 2018 at the Environmental Health Department Head Quarters, Ministry of Health conference room in Honiara and at the NPHL. The workshop organised by the NPHL of the MHMS, Cawthron and FAO had 34 participants. The purpose of the workshop was to update key government officials and industry stakeholders on the progress of the project, obtain feedback and identify issues and solutions.

The workshop concluded with 21 participants visiting the NPHL to observe the types of microbiological tests and instruments used to determine water and food quality. It was a new and rewarding experience for many of the participants which helped them appreciate the importance of developing local laboratory testing capacity.


The Solomon Islands fishing industry is one of the country’s major industry sectors. Processed fish (mainly canned tuna and cooked tuna loins) are among the top three commodities with the highest revenues from international trade.

The Solomon Islands has been approved to export fish to the EU. Maintaining access to the large EU market and other international markets is a national priority. The assistance is provided to enable the NPHL to carry out microbiological testing in line with international standards so that fish exports can continue. This support is expected to protect jobs in the fishing industry (employs more than 2000 people) and sustain commercial fish exports which are worth approximately US$45 million.

Increased access to clean water and safe food are priority development goals for public health in the Solomon Islands. By strengthening the laboratory's capacity to monitor and evaluate microbiological contamination risks associated with water and food, the project will support efforts to protect domestic public health. The laboratory will also be in a position to provide testing support to government agencies and international organizations involved in the delivery of local water projects and water management interventions.

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