A blog maintained by Tevita Kete, PGR Officer
Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Suva, Fiji Islands
This weblog documents the activities of Pacific Agricultural Genetic Resources Network (PAPGREN), along with other information on plant genetic resources (PGR) in the Pacific.
The myriad varieties found within cultivated plants are fundamental to the present and future productivity of agriculture. PAPGREN, which is coordinated by the Land Resources Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), helps Pacific countries and territories to conserve their crop genetic diversity sustainably, with technical assistance from the Bioversity International (BI) and support from NZAID and ACIAR.
SPC also hosts the Centre of Pacific Crops and Trees (CEPaCT). The CEPaCT maintains regional in vitro collections of crops important to the Pacific and carries out research on tissue culture technology. The CEPaCT Adviser is Dr Mary Taylor (MaryT@spc.int), the CEPaCT Curator is Ms Valerie Tuia (ValerieT@spc.int).
PAPGREN coordination and support
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Mr Herman Francisco
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Ms Laisene Samuelu
Mr Jimi Saelea
Mr Tony Jansen
Mr Finao Pole
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Sunday, February 05, 2006
Posted 1:35 PM by Luigi
Fiji goes organic?
By Dionisia Tabureguci in Island Business.
The production of agricultural commodities organically is accounting for a bigger and bigger slice of the national income in the more developed countries today.
But the same cannot be said for most islands countries in the Pacific where, it is often said, the situation is ideal for organic agricultural production.
In 2001, Australia's Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) estimated the country's organic industry could be worth $1 billion (including exports) by 2006.
In that year, the industry (excluding export sales) was worth $220 million. By then too, the organic agricultural production was already diverse, with around 1800 certified producers, processors, distributors and retailers of organic food and fibre products operating in diverse industries, including grains and pulses, horticulture, viticulture, beef and pork, dairy and honey markets. Seafood was a new opportunity to be explored by RIRDC.
Today, international researches into global organic production document Australia as a leader in organic agricultural production with over 15 million hectares and over 2000 farms under organic management.
Globally too, this industry is estimated to reach US$100 billion in sales as demand is growing annually at a rate of 20 to 30 percent.
Those who are advocating the strengthening of this concept in the local scene say it should be easy for the islands to go into organic farming because the way of life is still agrarian- based and the use of chemicals and fertilisers are not very prominent.
“We already have an advantage because we don't use chemicals very much,” says Sada Nand Lal, coordinator of entomology at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Land Resources Division section.
SPC is one of the stakeholders behind the resurrection of organic farming, to begin first in Fiji and, later on, in its member countries in the Pacific.
Lal, who heads the SPC's Integrated Pest Management (IPM) project, says SPC would provide technical support to organisations set up to nurture organic farming.
“This is the baby of IPM,” he says. “We even formed a steering committee back in 2002 when we had an IPM at one of the local farms (in Sigatoka, Fiji). A steering committee was formed to help start an organisation to take care of this.”
That organisation became what is now known as the Fiji Organic Association (FOA). It is still headed by former government agriculturalist-turned businessman Sant Kumar.
“SPC has been a very ardent supporter of FOA technically and financially,” says Lal. “There is a lot of potential for organic agricultural production all around. We have fruit trees growing wild here and no one ever sprays them. That is a starting point.
“What is missing here is a set of industry standards which we need in order to certify these products so we can sell or export them as organically grown fruits. And of course, getting a standard in place would depend on what market we are targeting.
“Whether it's the European, New Zealand, Australian or the US market. They are all slightly different but all comply with ISOs.”
Kumar has been working fervently at getting some form of certification to help farmers who are looking at exploring organic farming.
“It is a very expensive exercise if farmers are to be doing it individually,” says Kumar.
“And we have a lack of industry standards here which means we have to go overseas to get certification.”
He cites an example where one of the already established local enterprises is known to have paid up to F$10,000 for certification.
FOA was officially set up in 2003 to help stimulate organic agriculture and develop it from a niche industry into a major component of agricultural production in Fiji.
In its two-year life, FOA has not been able to achieve much with its temporary office bearers. But it has managed to send a local abroad to study certification at ECOCERT (a certifying organisation specialising in European certification).
It is also in the process of getting affiliated to IFOAM (International Federation of Organic Agricultural Movement), the umbrella body of organic agricultural production.
Early this year, FOA managed to draw up a constitution and a framework of activities giving way to an annual general meeting to be held at the end of the year to appoint office holders.
“We have been trying to get an Internal Control System (ICS) in place which would at least take us closer to certification.
“For example, if a noni exporter wants to buy noni fruits, he or she could do so only from farms which have been certified.
“We could approach the certification of these farms as a group which would make the hiring of a consultant much cheaper than the costs would be if individual farms were to hire its own consultant.”
This effort by FOA has not fallen on deaf ears and there is a possibility that an ICS would eventuate soon.
When this edition went to press, the Brussels-based Centre for the Development of Enterprises (CDE), the European Union arm tasked with providing technical assistance to the private sector, announced a training workshop on ICS in organic agriculture, which was to be held in Fiji.
“A CDE fact finding mission in July had meetings with key stakeholders and FOA wanted to get the cost of certification reduced for its members.
“One way to do that is by training smallholders on ICS,” says Premila Kumar, CDE's antenna for the Pacific region.
“Compared to the non-organic market, the organic market is small and has stringent demands relating to quality, packaging and certification. For the exporter, the implication is rigorous.
“In developing countries, where many farmers are poor and cultivate small plots of land, inspection and certification is very expensive.
“Most therefore practice group certification based on ICS. Group certification is possible only when there are sufficiently large numbers of farmers growing the same crop by the same methods and under similar conditions,” says Kumar.
FOA had been looking at the workshop as a starting point to getting sufficient numbers where it would then put in place an ICS to consolidate the certification needs of aspiring organic farmers in the country.
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