|Pacific agriculture and forestry leaders urged to conserve agro-biodiversity|
|Wednesday, 15 September 2010 13:37|
The fourth regional meeting of the Heads of Agriculture and Forestry services (HOAFS) was officially opened by the Fiji Islands Minister of Primary Industries, Mr Joketani Cokanasiga. In his official address, minister Cokanasiga highlighted the importance of a genuine and committed approach towards safeguarding agro-biodiversity in the face of significant challenges such as increasingly unpredictable climatic conditions.
‘2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity and it is very apt that this meeting has as its theme Agro-biodiversity to address climate change, food security and trade.’
‘Agriculture remains the mainstay of the economy of our larger island countries and is important in some of the smaller countries for subsistence farming and activities in the forest and trees sector involving management of watersheds and coastal forests and agro-forestry development,’ Mr Cokanasiga said.
‘Sustainable management of agricultural lands will support wider ecosystem functions, such as the maintenance of water quality, and carbon sequestration.’
He highlighted the importance of plant and animal genetic diversity, reminding attendees that since agriculture began over 10,000 years ago, approximately 7,000 plant species and several thousand animal species have been used for human consumption.
‘However, it would be wrong to define agricultural biodiversity as just the plants and animals that we eat; its value stretches beyond these crop and animal species, and includes all forms of life directly relevant to agriculture – not just crops and livestock but also organisms such as soil fauna, weeds, pests and predators.
‘Local knowledge and culture can be considered as integral parts of agro-biodiversity, because human agricultural activities conserve this biodiversity and most crop plants have now lost their original dispersal mechanisms and need human input to thrive,’ Cokanasiga said.
He emphasised the range of insect populations needed by agriculture, such as pollinators (including bees) and beneficial predators.
‘If we do not ensure there are habitats for these beneficial insects to prosper in, then agricultural production could be negatively affected,’ Cokanasiga said.
Essential ecosystem functions such as nutrient cycling, decomposition of organic matter, pest and disease control and pollination are all maintained by a wide range of populations in and near agricultural ecosystems.
Increased nutrient availability and improved water management helps produce more and better quality food.
‘Soil health is an area that has been much neglected in recent years with the constant drive to get more production out of the land,’ Cokanasiga said.
‘However, recently farmers, extensionists and researchers are realising that the time has come to put back into the soil what has been taken out and to use agricultural systems that will improve and nurture soil health.’
Using agricultural practices that build on existing ecological processes, such as soil conservation and biological pest control, and utilising systems that include crop and livestock diversity, can reduce the need for fertilisers and pesticides, thereby preserving the health of the agricultural ecosystem and ensuring food production into the future.
Acting Director of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community Land Resources Division (LRD) Inoke Ratukalou echoed similar sentiments and stressed that assistance to member countries will be aligned with national priorities and agriculture/forestry sector plans.
‘LRD has also taken onboard issues raised at the Pacific Food Security Summit including promoting the production and consumption of more nutritious local foods, and will integrate them into our activities.
‘We recognise the constraints faced by Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) with limited resources and technical expertise, and we will continue to support them with technical assistance.’
He also added that there is an urgent need to address pests and disease issues in conjunction with trade and market issues. In recent national and regional forums, there have been strong expressions of concern and calls for more concerted efforts to address global issues such as climate change, food security, biosecurity and trade, pest and disease incursions, organic agriculture, and the place of youth in agriculture.
This year’s HOAFS meeting will address these issues within the context of the theme of the meeting, which recognises the UN International Year of Biodiversity 2010.
The four day meeting will conclude on 17 September.
(For more information please contact Vinesh Prasad on telephone 3370733 or