"We are looking at leveraging priority value chains to enable communities to access nutritious and healthy food," said Judith Francis, Senior Programme Coordinator of Science and Technology Policy at CTA and leader of the project. "We want to drive innovations in the agriculture sector, especially those targeting clearly documented nutritional constraints in the region."
These Pacific Week of Agriculture (PWA) workshops, organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), together with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO), unveiled progress made in developing value chains based on healthy local agricultural produce, as part of the Promoting Nutritious Food Systems in the Pacific project.
Numerous nutrition issues
The Pacific islands are facing serious health problems linked to a trend towards the consumption of relatively cheap imported processed foods, the meeting heard. More than 50% – and in some cases up to 90% – of the population is overweight, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Other nutrition related health problems include anaemia, stunting in children and a rapid increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
"NCDs are endemic in the Pacific. Therefore linking agriculture to nutritional issues is very important," said Ron Hartman, IFAD Country Director for Indonesia and the Pacific.
The strategy to promote nutritious value chains has selected a range of agrifood products, including fruits and vegetables, coconuts, fish and cattle in the case of Vanuatu, the main producer of beef in the region.
The value chains challenges are identified
Earlier this year, an exercise to map priority nutrition sensitive value chains in Fiji, Samoa, the Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu revealed a range of challenges, including a wide preference for cheap imported food and a tendency by policy-makers and other actors to underestimate the size of domestic markets.
"Common problems identified for value chain players were inadequate access to finance, markets, infrastructure, training and extension, together with difficult and costly transport, especially between remote islands,'' said Patrick Polacsek, of the European Union Delegation based in Fiji.
Despite the constraints, there were clear opportunities for drawing Pacific farmers into nutrition sensitive value chains, said speakers. Education, training and skills development would be key to the process, they added.
"We have introduced farmers to the value chain way of thinking, and once we did that, their mindset changed," said Lavinia Kaumaitotoya, programme manager of the Pacific Islands Farmers Organisation (PIFON), which partnered with CTA to conduct the value chain analysis.
An online platform to coordinate value chains
The PWA workshops saw the launch and testing of an online tool to facilitate networking, knowledge exchange and interactive learning among actors, so as to improve value chain efficiency and performance. The value chain coordinating/ agricultural innovation (VCC/ AI) platform will enable players with an interest in a particular value chain to access information on key issues and build synergies, communicating with each other through virtual channels to maintain dialogue and share ideas remotely. The tool will complement face-to-face interaction.
"This tool is going to be the key to networking and building relationships among value chain actors," said Pier Andrea Pirani, who presented the platform. "It's an online space for information gathering, news and updates, and dialogue, where value chain actors can continue conversations on issues that are important to them, whether they be farmers, policy-makers, or people from the private sector."