Experience in developing countries around the world, including the Pacific Island Countries (PICs), suggests that investing in the agriculture sector offers numerous opportunities for promoting sustainable and equitable economic development, associated with the well-regulated development of agribusiness and trade in agricultural commodities. However, agricultural supply chains are notoriously subject to disruption by emerging pest and disease problems, causing increased production costs, reduced quality and often leading to biosecurity issues in exported commodities.  They include difficulties in meeting quality thresholds, contamination with agrochemical residues and the presence or risk of quarantine pests. The Pacific Islands are particularly at risk from invasive pests and diseases, some of which have already demonstrably disrupted agricultural production and commodity trade. The impacts of interruptions to agricultural export chains fall particularly severely on smallholder farmers and their communities, who have few financial reserves to fall back on and limited alternatives to which they can turn for income generation.

The risks of pest and disease impacts on agriculture are mitigated through the development of biosecurity measures, including both an appropriate regulatory framework and capable agencies necessary to develop and implement the framework, along with the infrastructure and facilities to deliver an effective plant biosecurity system.  Agricultural research for development funders, including the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), have invested significantly in building biosecurity capacity in the Pacific Islands over many years. However, there are numerous examples of continuing insufficient capacity and inadequate performance, with ‘the system’ in general proving unable to respond to major new threats such as the giant African snail, crazy ants and fire ants, the coconut rhino beetle and coffee berry borer – as well as the ongoing challenge of keeping pathways open for existing commodity exports.

Based on recent consultation with agricultural R&D partners in the region, it is suggested that previous capacity-building investments have been less effective than expected due to their focus on ‘one-off’ formal skill-building and on procedures – such as pest-and-disease identification, pest risk analysis.  A clear outcome of the June 2017 exploratory workshop determined the need for a biosecurity capacity building program to assist individual PICs and the region was that all participants agreed that such a program in the Pacific region is vital. This is due to the increase in trade, not only to international markets, but also within the region as well as the need to ensure food security and safeguard biodiversity.

This program uses methods that will ensure greater success, including experiential learning and problem-solving and creating an ongoing community of practice focusing on the specific needs and opportunities available to countries and businesses. 

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Preparation for this program has therefore begun with participatory analysis of problems and priorities (through an initial consultation workshop in June 2017 and the current Small Research Activity, where more extensive consultation and situational analysis is still under way). Based on this analysis, program implementation will involve experiential learning (‘learning-by-doing’) focusing on the real-world priorities of the participating individuals and institutions, in which biosecurity practitioners from the Pacific Islands are supported to conduct placements in organisations in Australia and New Zealand with the expertise most relevant to their needs. To provide continuing support, the program will seek to facilitate the development of mentoring relationships and the establishment of a permanent network of biosecurity professionals in the region.

This approach was developed and tested through a successful ACIAR biosecurity capacity-building program in Africa, and it is anticipated that the approach, with suitable modifications, will be equally successful in the Pacific with Kalang providing expert knowledge and experience in the design and implementation.Within the broader development goal of promoting the sustainable and equitable development of agribusiness and agricultural commodity trade in the Pacific Islands, the specific aim of this program is to increase the level of agricultural biosecurity achieved by partner countries in the region.

Specific objectives of the program are to:

1.         Strengthen the technical capacity of biosecurity practitioners in the Pacific;

2.         Improve the ‘soft skills’ of biosecurity practitioners in the region; and

3.         To sustain and further build the capacity of biosecurity professionals.

The program strategy involves: enhancing the capacity and performance of Pacific National Plant Protection Organisation (NPPO) partner agencies and private sector companies – through participatory identification of needs and priorities, followed by experience-based learning, targeted to addressing those needs and achieved mainly through attachments to relevant centres of expertise in Australia and New Zealand; and sustaining and further building capabilities through regional training and the establishment of a peer-to-peer network among biosecurity practitioners across the region and an institutional home for the network.

Program implementation partners will be Kalang Consultancy Services Pty. Ltd. (with broad experience of addressing biosecurity and trade issues in the Pacific islands), as Commissioned Organisation, in close collaboration with Magee Consultancy Services Pty. Ltd. (with experience in the management of a previous ACIAR biosecurity capacity building program in sub-Saharan Africa), working with the biosecurity agencies of Papua New Guinea (PNG), Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu, with relevant companies involved in agricultural commodity trade in the region, and in collaboration with relevant partners investing in this focus area, especially DFAT’s Pacific Horticulture and Agriculture Market Access Program (PHAMA) and ACIAR’s Pacific Agribusiness Research-for-Development Initiative (PARDI), both embarking on their second phase of implementation. Program implementation partners will include The Crawford Fund and Econnect (capacity building in communications, negotiations and advocacy), and Biosecurity and AgriSystems Protection (BSASP, market access simulations) while partners to host capacity-building placements are currently being identified under the ongoing SRA.

Expected outputs of the program are increased individual and organisational capacity of biosecurity stakeholders, in the public and private sectors – along with various organisational arrangements, tools and materials to support that increase in capacity. The expected outcome of the program is the improved performance of the biosecurity ‘system’ in the region, as evidenced by: diversified opportunities for trade in agricultural commodities (both for exports from the Pacific Islands to markets in Australia, New Zealand, North America and Asia, and for trade in such commodities among Pacific Island countries); improved detection of emergent and invasive pest and disease problems and reduced risk of further invasions; reduced disruption to existing agricultural commodity supply chains associated with biosecurity compliance issues, leading to greater profitability and more stable revenues. Eventual impacts should include greater and more stable income for smallholder farmers and communities involved in agricultural commodity production and exports and improved food security.