Political support harnessed with innovative regional networks could potentially improve the lives of smallholder farmers in Fiji and the Pacific. To make this a reality, the Fiji Agricultural Advisory Services (FAAS) network has been established as a pilot in Fiji with potential for expanding in the region.
At an IFAD Supervision Meeting in Nadi earlier this month, Mr David Kolitagane, Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fiji, said that "the establishment of FAAS has demonstrated that there is potential for collaboration which will need support from political leaders. This will ensure the roles and related work is taken seriously and embedded in national work programmes assisting greatly with the alignment of work plans within government ministries.’
The creation of the FAAS network earlier this year is an outcome of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) project ‘Supporting smallholder farmers in Asia and the Pacific islands region through strengthened agricultural advisory services,’ in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture in Fiji (MOA) and the Pacific Community (SPC).
In framing the newly established network’s relevance, Mr Kolitagane said, "the role of rural agricultural advisory services concerning the mobility of rural populations is critical and aspects of climate change, demographic trends, rural-urban connectivity and the mobilisation of rural people need to be taken into account."
The FAAS network comprises of focal points from the ministries of agriculture, education, indigenous iTaukei affairs, and the Fiji Crop and Livestock Council’s commodity leads for taro, yaqona, ginger, livestock that are key products for majority smallholders in Fiji. It also includes the Fiji National University’s (FNU) College of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (CAFF) focusing on developing and training future agriculturalists and the Fiji Development Bank (FDB) a financial institution with a portfolio of up to eighteen products for farmers. FDB is Green Climate Fund (GCF) accredited and its development of financial products to ensure climate-smart agriculture stands to have a large impact on smallholders.
This integrated approach directly corresponds to SPC’s country programming at national level and the FAAS network will inform and offer joint approaches to strengthening the agricultural sector in Fiji and if scaled, other Pacific island countries.
The current membership and earlier partners who were engaged in consultations and will be revisited including the ministries of lands, youth, social welfare, poverty alleviation and women among others make this a formidable emerging network that will take integrated planning, learning and joint service delivery to a more strategic level. The FAAS network champions governance, capacity building, and information and knowledge sharing as core elements to research, learn and develop solutions to strengthen rural agricultural advisory services and its processes and learnings will be shared across the region.
Mr Kolitagane emphasised that "these are not trivial matters, but are issues upon which the lives of many depend, especially those who are in most need of support."
According to Ms Karen Mapusua, Manager Operations, Performance and Systems at SPC’s Land Resources Division, "Extension and advisory services are critical for facilitating access to technology and knowledge for both farmers and small scale enterprises. Advisory services increasingly play a brokering role to support inclusive multi-stakeholder innovation processes - linking stakeholders such as producer organizations, research services, higher education and agribusiness with producers. The FAAS network is positioned to play this role in Fiji to the benefit of rural people."
The IFAD Supervision Mission included the participation of the Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS), the Asia-Pacific Rural Advisory Services (APIRAS), the Pacific Islands Rural Advisory Services (PIRAS), the South-East Asian Regional Centre for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) and the Centre for Research and Science Policy (CRISP).