COVID-19 has had a far-reaching effect on Pacific nations. In the space of seven months, the evaporation of vital tourism earnings and remittances, as well as the disruption to international trade and the food supply, has had repercussions on food security and vital economic links in many Pacific economies. For some nations, COVID-19 has come directly to their shores, leading to lockdowns and the closure of fresh food markets, which has cut even deeper than some of the worst tropical cyclones in recent years.
The aftermath of the initial COVID-19 surge has produced an urgent need for Pacific countries to be more self-sufficient in food production. A rapid member country assessment from SPC’s Land Resources Division (LRD) has driven this point home, resulting in the signing of the Pacific Regional Integrated Food and Nutrition Security Initiative to COVID19 (PRISCO19) initiative, a Euro 1.5 million drive funded by the European Union (EU) and implemented by SPC through the LRD. The one-year project expects to deliver two outcomes: strengthening capacity of biosecurity services and upgrading sustainable food production and value addition as a response to COVID-19.
Increased biosecurity will require good quality seeds and livestock breeds free from all forms of plant pests and disease. PRISCO19 will work to improve the occupational health and safety compliance capacity of countries on plant and animal disease surveillance and diagnostics. Biosecurity officers will receive plant protection equipment and rapid detection of pest and disease field kits. They additionally will be trained in surveillance techniques and identification, inspection and mitigation of biosecurity risk and threat pathways at the borders and post borders, through a virtual “Training of the Trainers”.
Increases in biosecurity will complement the upgrading of sustainable production and value addition that will be implemented in close collaboration with the countries’ ministries of agriculture and research and their extension and advisory services. Short-term vegetable and resilient clonal crop varieties will be promoted through seed evaluation and testing and distribution processes within the formal and informal seed systems. The vegetable seeds will be procured from recognised seed companies, while the SPC Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) will mass-produce the clonal crop seedlings. The country Ministry of Agriculture will distribute the seeds at the national level, maintaining a database of supported households, followed by periodic monitoring and household training and assistance on pest management issues. SPC project staff will support national extension officers in this work.
The Pacific Regional Integrated Food and Nutrition Security Initiative to COVID19 is part of the larger EU programme Pacific Regional Integration Support (PRISE), a Euro 37 million initiative to support greater economic integration among the scattered countries of the Pacific region, and between the region and the global economy. PRISE’s overall objective is to contribute to improving Pacific states’ economic and social benefits through stronger regional economic integration.