The first Pacific Week of Agriculture (PWA) opened on 16 October 2017 in Port Vila, Vanuatu. Taking the theme CROPS – Culture, Resilience, Opportunities, Products, Sustainability - PWA sets out to foster dialogue and commitment for realising the potential of agriculture in a region that is facing a number of economic, social and environmental challenges.
During the five-day event, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) has teamed up with the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO) to organise a series of workshops that explore mechanisms for; upgrading priority 'nutrition-sensitive' value chains and increasing investments in youth agri-entrepreneurship and the agri-tourism sector in the Pacific.
"The PWA brings together multiple stakeholders to reflect on key issues, in agriculture, food and nutrition in Pacific Island countries. It provides the context for joint learning and decision-making," said Judith Francis, Senior Programme Coordinator of Science and Technology Policy at CTA and Leader of the Pacific Flagship Project, which focuses on Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, and Vanuatu. "We want to use this learning platform to create synergies with other projects in the region, share experiences and good practice and build partnerships for future actions that ensure that rural communities can increase their access to nutritious foods." Among the challenges that the region faces are nutrition-related health problems fuelled by high levels of food imports, declining agricultural productivity, the impacts of climate change, as well as high youth unemployment and rural to urban migration.
The PWA Opening Ceremony was held at the Independence Park, against the background of an extensive showcase event that was organised for the second Vanuatu Agritourism Festival. A range of items from virgin coconut oil to coffee and kava, handwoven baskets, home-made soaps and fabrics, many of them targeting the burgeoning tourism market, were on display. Chefs training sessions were launched and will be featured throughout the week.
Speakers at the Opening Ceremony highlighted the potential for strengthening agritourism linkages as a pathway for rural development. Increasing the efficiency of agricultural production is an essential prerequisite, they said, as is improving farm mechanisation, developing value chains and educating both farmers and consumers on the nutritional value of local crops, fish and livestock and the health benefits of having diversified diets.
Vanuatu's Minister of Agriculture Matai Seremaiah Nawalu noted that in Vanuatu, many farmers and their households did not eat the food they produced."Farmers are moving into more commercial crops to make money, but they and their families do not eat local," said the Minister. "The problem is growing, and for low-income earners, it is often cheaper to buy imported products. We need to value our culture and traditions, be proud of our Pacific products and make our locally produced foods more affordable."
Young agripreneur, Nawsheen Hosenhally, a national of Mauritius, a Small Island Developing State facing similar challenges as many Pacific Island countries and who had travelled to Vanuatu to share her lessons learned in establishing a business, said that the first day celebrations had introduced her to a new culture - one that is strongly linked to agriculture.
"I think there is a lot of potential for developing agri-enterprise development" but Hosenhally, who is a co-founder of Agribusiness TV, based in Burkina Faso. "I think it is important to educate young people and provide them with opportunities to grow their business, especially if we want the agriculture sector to be more responsive in terms of improving food security, incomes and nutrition."
Mr Ron Hartman, IFAD Country Director for Asia and Pacific noted that IFAD will be co-sponsoring several side events. He said that "The PWA will provide a platform where we can showcase our partnerships and projects and how together we can create better synergy with ongoing initiatives".