This week the Pacific Community (SPC) handed over 350kg vegetable seeds and 400 tissue culture plants to the Fiji Ministry of Agriculture (MOA). The event was part of Pacific Seeds for Life (PS4L) and represented the projects first contribution towards the Fiji Government’s relief efforts for TC Harold and the global pandemic COVID-19.
The batch of seeds and planting materials are part of a consignment of 500kg vegetable seeds worth FJD 170,000 (NZD 120,000) facilitated under the PS4L project and 9,500 tissue culture materials worth FJD 70,000 (AUD 50,000) facilitated under the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) support to the Pacific’s Regional Genebank, CePaCT (Centre for Pacific Crops & Trees).
SPC with the support of its key partners, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) and the Australian DFAT will provide the remaining seeds and tissue culture materials to MOA, Fiji in the course of this year and the next.
The Deputy Director General of SPC- Suva Regional Office, Dr Audrey Aumua says, the handover comes at a crucial time when a significant portion of the Pacific population needs support in meeting their immediate food security needs due to disruptions in food supply chains caused by COVID-19 and widespread destruction of food gardens by TC Harold across parts of Fiji, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands.
“The Pacific Community remains committed to working with our member states to achieve their development aspirations. Agriculture and forestry play a significant role in sustaining livelihoods, food and nutrition security and enhancing resilience for most of our vulnerable Pacific communities,” she said.
The handover also marked the official launch of SPC’s regional initiatives- The Pacific Seeds for Life (PS4L) project approved in March this year with a total value of NZD 4.8 million and funded by the Government of New Zealand (MFAT); and the support to the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT) funded by the Government of Australia (DFAT), valued at AUD 2.3 million over four years (2019-2023).
The Pacific Seeds for Life (PS4L) project will run for five years (2020-2024) and is implemented by the Manaaki Whenua LandCare Research (MWLR), NZ in partnership with the SPC's Land Resources Division (LRD).
The ultimate aim of both projects is to have a resilient seed system in place to facilitate the access to and availability of a diverse portfolio of quality plant genetic resources at all times for farmers and growers.
This work is crucial to ensure sustainable food production in the face of natural disasters and climate change and for the health of Pacific people from broadening crop diversity.
Upon receiving the vegetable seeds and tissue plants, Minister of Agriculture, Dr Mahendra Reddy alluded to the historic relationship the Australian and New Zealand Governments share with Fiji, and acknowledged their commitment towards Fiji and other Pacific member countries.
He said the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has given the government an opportunity to go back to the drawing board to create opportunities out of the crisis.
“The Agriculture and the primary sectors like forestry and fisheries will continue to play a dominant role in the growth and development of Pacific island countries and we cannot afford to ignore the significant role primary industries can play in the growth and development of the economy and we should continuously invest on the fundamentals,” he said.
“For some reason for the past two decades the agriculture sector was treated like a welfare sector and whenever justification was made to get additional resources from government, that was on the basis that so many people were engaged in it, the livelihood and employment dimension, but I would say, we should treat agriculture as an economic sector and therefore once the agriculture sector is developed, the surplus created will then trickle down to those involved in the sector.”
New Zealand High Commissioner to Fiji H.E. Jonathan Curr said New Zealand's seed industry has been running for over 100 years, and is able to grow seed and grain for international markets as well as, for local consumption.
“As a result of our partnership with SPC, we hope that in five years time, the Pacific region will be more independent and produce its own quality fresh food production. And this will be achieved by supporting local farmers and growers, with the right varieties that grow well in local climates and soil conditions and appeal to local tastes,” he said.
Australia's High Commissioner to Fiji H.E. John Feakes in turn thanked the partners involved and said he hoped the continued funding and partnerships with Australia and SPC through such initiatives play an effective role in addressing emerging needs in the region.
“Both Australia and New Zealand are committed in deepening our relationships and strengthening our cooperation with Fiji and the rest of the Pacific. We are genuinely with you for the long term and continually stand with you in these uncertain times,.”
LRD acknowledged the continuous support from its key development partners MFAT and DFAT in the seed systems development space as critical for region. Furthermore, SPC acknowledges the unwavering support of its member countries in these collaborative works.
Matilda Simmons, Communications Assistant, LRD | E: [email protected]