The COVID-19 crisis is having severe impact on the global development sector, making it mandatory for organizations, such as the Pacific Community (SPC) to adjust the way they work. That includes the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT), SPC’s regional gene bank, for which COVID-19 poses key operational challenges and the need for reprioritisation of activities.
Fiji-based CePaCT has the key responsibilities of conserving important crop collections both from within (67%) and outside (33%) of the region and making these crops and varieties available for use by the region. 2020 is supposed to mark the beginning of an important journey towards the transformation of CePaCT into a Centre of Excellence, to align to quality standards of other international gene banks. A key objective is that the Centre reaches a higher level of quality assurance in its service delivery modalities in order to respond more effectively to the needs of SPC’s members as well as those of the global community.
However, it is now feared that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, investments in infrastructure, human resources, equipment and software improvements may be affected not only in Fiji but also across the Region. This might threaten the global partnerships CePaCT has been forging with international gene banks.
In the past weeks, the Centre has been taking a few key mitigation measures to ensure that the work keeps going, and that the overall ambitions of CePaCT are kept intact as much as possible.
The Centre decided to shift its focus from multiplication to conservation, in order to make sure that all crop collections are safely maintained. A team of core staff has been mobilised to not only refresh plant cultures but also build stocks of plant materials to immediately restart multiplication activities when work returns to normal.
The team has also been working hard to ensure the safety of all facilities and key equipment as well as the uninterrupted flow of key services like electricity and water to sustain essential activities. Another top-priority is to maintain standard environmental requirements for the conservation of the collections.
In addition, CePaCT has re-phased some activities by bringing forward the ones that staff members can do from home such as the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs), policy evaluation, literature reviews and standardisation/update of data records.
Challenges often come with new needs. The COVID-19 pandemic might have immediate and longer-term impacts on food security in the region, and the Centre can to a certain extent mitigate these impacts by keeping sufficient stocks in order to keep food systems healthy and adaptive to the rapidly-evolving situation in the Pacific. As such, it stands ready to reorganize its teams and its workload to provide an efficient response to these forthcoming challenges.