Meet Ramona Stephanie O’Connor Sulifoa – SPC LRD Research for Development Advisor steering the Regional Research Agenda for Agriculture and Forestry in the Pacific

1.Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re from and about your field of work at SPC Land Resources Division? 

I was born and raised in Samoa, but I am also a NZ citizen through my father. I took on the  role of Research for Development Adviser in February this year.  I hold a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Science and Master’s Degree in Agricultural Science (with a focus on Agriculture Economics) from the University of the South Pacific.  I also hold a PhD in Natural Resources Environmental Management from the University of Hawaii, Manoa.   

While I have spent a considerable amount of my career in management roles,  I was also involved in research work during my graduate years and when I was lecturing at the Solomon Islands National University. Even though my roles have management elements , there is always the opportunity for research to  inform next steps or to provide advice at the policy level.  Research has always been one of my main interests, which is one of the reasons why I wanted to work for SPC in this area.    


2. Given your line of work – how important is research development? 

Research is important as it is carried out to  address a specific development problem(s).  The problem or problems need to be driven by the needs of the Pacific Island communities that we serve. Carrying out research to address specific development issues is important because the results give us a better idea of how to solve those problems, or the next steps we need to take to better address the issue.  It is also key as results from research can inform policy and behavioural change. My line of work gives me the opportunity to collaborate with experts to pull together funding proposals or work on ideas to address some of the agricultural related problems faced by our member countries.  Collaboration is key as many problems that arise require more interdisciplinary approaches to address them and being able to pull in different expertise to address specific problems is important.   


3. You represented SPC at the BioProtection Research Alliance for the Asia-Pacific region. Can you tell us more about this meeting? 

The BioProtection Research for Alliance for the Asia-Pacific region brought together expertise from the Asia-Pacific region to identify how this bioprotection research alliance model could better support work related to pest and disease management in the Asia Pacific region.  There are common pests and diseases throughout the region and lessons learned from one area can help to inform solutions for other areas.  In addition, there are opportunities for sharing not only expertise but also infrastructure to address specific pest and disease issues common to both regions.  From SPC’s end, we were involved because we wanted to see how the Alliance could best support our work to better serve our member countries.  We saw this as an opportunity as well to increase our network of expertise in the area of pests and diseases and an opportunity to socialise our work on the Regional Research Agenda (RRA).   


4. How can the BioProtection Alliance benefit SPC and the Pacific region?  

SPC is the principal scientific and technical organisation in our region.  Therefore, the BioProtection Research Alliance is an opportunity to expand our networks and resources in order to improve our scientific and technical support to our member countries.  In this case, the Alliance is a great avenue for our crop pest and disease work.  We are looking at ways to reduce chemical use on plants that creates not only economic issues for our farmers, but also environmental problems as it is building up the resistance of pests and diseases, resulting in misuse and overuse of chemicals.  There are common pests and diseases that are found here in the Pacific region, as well as  across Asia, and if we combine expertise and resources, we can leverage more resources to support our work on solutions for farmers.   


5. What were some of the SPC gaps you saw that the Alliance could address? 

I would not really classify our limitations as gaps, as we have the foundation and expertise in place in SPC that can really drive research for development work forward. However, what I do see are opportunities for increasing our research capacity, particularly in pest and disease management.  Our team here at LRD are working hard on ways to better support farmers to reduce the use of chemicals to control crop pests and diseases.  We have a Plant Health Lab that already supports farmers through the rearing of natural enemies of specific pests and diseases to better mitigate those pests and diseases through biocontrol methods. There is also work with farmers through our Plant Health Clinics to identify pests and diseases and the best control strategies for them. The Alliance is an opportunity to leverage more resources through funding and expertise so we can continue to build on the research that we have.  Solutions are not found overnight, but persistence will eventually result in the impacts that we are all working toward.  


6. What were some of the opportunities identified at the meeting? 

I identified some opportunities in the question above.  However, other opportunities include  building up our expertise network through this alliance as we progress to test our RRA.  The RRA is a framework that was requested by our SPC member countries through the Pacific Heads of Agriculture and Forestry (HOAFs) in 2021.  The primary aim of the RRA is to action better coordination in Pacific countries in their research and to share resources to solve common research problems. The RRA was endorsed at the HOAFs meeting in March 2023 and we are now building the platform by working with the Pacific Peer Review Group that was nominated through the Heads.  The Alliance is an opportunity to expand our network and leverage resources if the Peer Review Group see the need to bring on board more support resources for work focused on pests and diseases.   


7. Would you like to add anything else? 

The meeting was a great opportunity to meet experts in the Pest and Disease areas and an opportunity to explore ideas on how we can support the alliance but at the same time how the alliance can support our work.  I am eager to take forward opportunities for the Alliance that will include Pacific Islander researchers and experts. 



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