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Food availability from agricultural production (food per capita) in the Pacific Islands is either stagnating or declining over the last few decades and the causes are agro ecological including declining productivity of the production environment as caused by downward spiral of soil productivity, increased pests and diseases and genetic erosions. And socio-economic factors like changing dietary habits, land tenure systems and decreasing labour force as youths are not interested too much in farming. As consequence of our dietary change and lifestyle becoming more static – we as a region is the most prone to NCDs and of the 10 most NCD severe countries in the world at least 5 are from our region.
For this discussion the issue of biodiversity is the theme. For the sake of development the approach has been to go for a few varieties of major staples and promote for food and marketing. As a consequence this has resulted in narrowing down of the genetic base and in some instances because crops become more prone to pests and diseases – crops almost disappear from countries like taro leaf blight almost wiped out taro from Samoa in the mid-late 1990s. This has become a real issue in the Pacific Islands and hence strategy now is to widen the genetic base by introducing more crop accessions and developing local varieties. The Pacific Community (SPC) in Fiji then established the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) to conserve, clean up materials and promote use in the Islands. We also now promoting participatory selection where varieties and accessions are given to farmers to evaluate and select those they want and this has started to widen genetic base. This approach has revitalise taro in Samoa. The same approach is also taken for trees where traditional trees are lost and CePaCT is also set up to address this. This means we need to be seed smart by continuously evaluating our crop varieties against stressors – climate change and non-climate change. Water management is also very vital for this since many of our countries have been having droughts in the last decade.
The Pacific Islands also are the most vulnerable to climate change and we have adopted climate smart agriculture as an approach and in an integrated manner we are starting to promote smart technologies like nutrient and Carbon smart where we try to improve nutrient cycling and soil organic carbon in the soil so that below ground biodiversity is improved. To improve resilience, we are starting to promote reintroduction of traditional and multi-purpose trees to the systems which are long-term sinks. And by doing these smartly we improve resilience and adapt to climate change as well as attaining food and nutrition security.
In Pacific Islands, we now regularly getting category 5 cyclones so our food supplies are regularly disrupted by these natural hazards – cyclones, flash floods, and droughts. So for disaster risk reduction strategy genetic resources become vital for these . Countries must have ex situ sources of planting materials to quickly respond to these.
In a nutshell the Pacific Islands are vulnerable to not only climate variability but like atolls inherent soil and water availability are issues and these must be taken into consideration as prerequisite to promoting biodiversity for food security and better nutrition. But for biodiversity to work its promotion must be coupled with promoting lifestyle changes to counter the incidence of NCDs
Crop Production and Extension Coordinator
SPC Land Resources Division