Matai Seremaiah Nawalu: A passion for transforming Pacific agriculture

Matai Seremaiah Nawalu, Vanuatu Minister for Agriculture, discusses the CTA publication, Transforming Food Systems in the Pacific, and highlights the significance of events such as the Pacific Week of Agriculture (PWA) 2017 to help stimulate Pacific agriculture.

How does regional collaboration, through events such as the PWA, help boost sustainable agricultural productivity in the Pacific?

The goal of the PWA 2017 is to elevate awareness of agriculture amongst global agricultural leaders and international and regional participants to its rightful place as a major driver of Pacific economies. Delegates will explore innovations, discuss challenges and look for ways to protect and expand agriculture in the Pacific. In addition, the PWA will showcase the nation’s advances in agriculture and agritourism, and we hope it will prove to be a great learning curve for Vanuatu and the Pacific. Regional collaboration and partnership, through events such as the PWA, will help boost sustainable agricultural productivity in the Pacific through the sharing of ideas from people from other parts of the world who are faced with similar problems experienced in the Pacific.

What can the Pacific learn from other regions?

Knowledge sharing is important and learning from each other is of great value. Take Chefs for Development, which originated in the Caribbean and brings chefs together with smallholder farmers and agro-processors who can supply quality products. Our chefs face the same problem as those in the Caribbean with many of our ingredients being imported. Through the Chefs for Development initiative we have now developed in the Pacific, we have a good network with our chefs to promote and come up with recipes to put on our tourists’ plates.

With support from CTA, over 30 participants from ACP countries are expected to participate at the PWA. Through innovative ideas from elsewhere, we are hoping to share that knowledge and also find ways to share local ingredients around the Pacific. For example, Vanuatu has some of the finest organic beef and veal in the world, but the Solomon Islands and Fiji do not have a strong beef industry, so we can help them in that regard.

Most food consumed in the Pacific, by locals and tourists, is imported. What is the government doing to support the region’s agriculture and tackle malnutrition?

The Vanuatu Government is promoting the consumption of healthy, locally-grown food to try and stop the onslaught of diseases like diabetes, which is a scourge throughout the Pacific. We have also begun to realise the true value of agritourism and how it can help the country economically, while presenting healthier food choices to locals and tourists alike. The government has declared 2017 as the ‘Year of Agritourism’ and the ministries have been working together to develop an agritourism strategy. The PWA will also be preceded by an agritourism and trade festival.

CTA’s publication, Transforming Food Systems in the Pacific, explores how farmers are increasing their revenues through agritourism in Vanuatu. What are the key challenges that need to be overcome to better facilitate farmers’ access to profitable tourist markets and expand Pacific agriculture?

We face many key challenges to accessing profitable markets that need to be overcome, with basic things like transport representing a big hurdle on many of our islands; the distance between Pacific islands and states is a major challenge and transport is expensive. Our harvest techniques, storage and logistics also need to be improved. We also need to be more competitive with our prices compared to imported products, but with mechanisation – tractors, farm machinery and tools – productivity is increasing.

Pacific agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate change and natural disasters. What measures are currently being taken to build the sector’s resilience?

Vanuatu is the number one nation in the world at risk from natural disasters. In Ambae recently, 10,000 people had to abandon their livestock and crops due to volcanic activity. When they return, it will be a mammoth task getting back to being able to produce crops and food quickly and efficiently. This is an example of our need to explore ideas and expand conversations beyond Vanuatu’s borders. Members from the Ministries of Agriculture and Climate Change, and the National Disaster Management Office, have formed a risk and resilience cluster to co-ordinate the response to natural disasters and conduct training with farmers on best practise techniques to deal with the aftermath of disasters and climate change. We are also learning constantly from world bodies like FAO on the best resilience measures available and we are working to adapt them to become suitable for Vanuatu.

 

The PWA is supported by the Pacific Community (SPC) and FAO

For a review of ‘Transforming Food Systems in the Pacific visit: Boosting agriculture: A food-secure future for the Pacific  

 

Tony Wilson

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.