A sustainable seed system is crucial to ensuring farmers have timely access to affordable quality seeds. However, access to quality vegetable seeds has been a long-standing challenge for farmers not only in Fiji, but throughout the Pacific.
Regional and national assessments conducted by the Pacific Community (SPC)'s Land Resources Division (LRD), identified several challenges related to seed security that included limited seed stocks, reliance on poor quality seed and low–yielding varieties, poor knowledge and skills regarding seed production processes, lack of quality assurance systems, inefficient seed distribution channels, limited linkages with community-based seed systems and lack of coherent seed policies.
To address these challenges SPC's LRD has been working closely with six member countries (Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu) to strengthen their seed systems under the New Zealand funded initiative ‘The Pacific Seeds for Life (PS4L) Programme’ in partnership with Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research New Zealand (MWLR).
The programme aims to enhance food and nutrition security in the Pacific’s most vulnerable communities through the development of nutritional crop varieties and improvement of sustainable access to research, services, markets and seeds in communities and country wide.
“SPC is the key technical organisation in the Pacific providing support for sustainable seed systems,” says Karen Mapusua, the SPC's LRD director. “In several seed system programmes and projects that we have implemented in recent years, we have provided technical support and training in the areas of plant protection, conservation and use of genetic resources, animal health and production, farming system and forestry, soil science and land management, biosecurity and trade facilitation.”
An example of this collaboration is the recent launch of the Fiji Ministry of Agriculture Seed Processing and Storage Unit gifted to the ministry under PS4L.
LRD Programme Leader for Sustainable Agriculture Gibson Susumu says the newly launched unit will support the Ministry of Agriculture in processing and storage of seeds so they can build up the quantity required for seed distribution across Fiji communities.
“What we’ll look at now is supporting centres, or what we call community seed banks, across Fiji so that the outputs from the Ministry of Agriculture are channelled through other community centres for easy access,” said Susumu. “A lot of the member countries have recognised the importance of strengthening open pollinated seed production to enable ongoing availability and access of seeds for farmers. This can help our member countries to save their own seeds rather than relying on imported ones.”
An expected outcome of the PS4L programme is the development of sustainable seed systems for its country beneficiaries by focusing on the following broad activities: create awareness and understanding on seed diversity and quality, build stakeholder knowledge and skills on the development and conservation of a diverse portfolio of quality seeds, and help strengthen seed networks for effective distribution of resilient and high nutritional crop varieties.
In Fiji, the PS4L programme will work closely with the Sigatoka Research Station, Koronivia Research Station and Tutu Rural Training Centre.
In Samoa, it will partner with the Samoa Federated Farmers Incorporated, University of the South Pacific’s School of Agriculture and Food Technologies and Nu’u Research station.
In Tonga, it will build on the Hango Seed Centre initially supported under the SPC/EU Pacific Agriculture Project (PAP) and Nishi Farmer Field School. And in Vanuatu, the PS4L programme will partner with the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock, Forestry, Fisheries and Biosecurity.
With the launch of the Fiji MOA Seed Processing and Storage Unit now completed, a number of seed production and crop breeding programmes are expected for Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu, Tuvalu and Kiribati. All the member countries are promoting nursery programmes to improve seed distribution channels. The long-term goal and expected impact of the PS4L project is to enhance capacity and improve access and use of quality seeds of resilient and highly nutritional crop varieties in the countries.