Agricultural research in the Pacific
by Param SIVAN end P.B. EYZAGUIRRE
Agricultural development and the management of natural resources
are central to the economies and peoples of the South Pacific island nations .
However, the opportunities for economic growth and development of the Pacific
States are severely constrained by the small size of their land the small
populations and limited internal markets, and their isolation from potential
Improving agricultural productivity and conserving the fragile
environments on many of the islands will require research to produce or identify
new and appropriate technology. How to plan and organise national and regional
research efforts to tackle the problems facing agriculture was the topic of a
recent international workshop held in Western Samoa.
The workshop brought together agricultural scientists, policy
makers and technical specialists to identify ways that strategic planning of
national agricultural research can enhance its contribution to the regions
agricultural growth. Several international, regional and national organisations
pooled their efforts to sponsor this event. Among these are the Technical Centre
for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, the Food and Agricultural Organisation
of the United Nations (FAO/UNDP), the International Service for National
Agricultural Research (ISNAR). The Institute of Research, Extension and Training
in Agriculture (IRETA) of the University of the South Pacific hosted the event
at its headquarters in Alafua, Western Samoa during the first week of March.
The challenge for small, national agricultural research systems
The South Pacific countries are separated by vast distances,
with small populations and varied cultures and ethnic background. Papua New
Guinea is the largest with a population of over three million and 426 000
km². Approximately, 2 million people live in the 16 other island states.
These vary in size from Solomon Islands with a land area of 27 500 km² to
Tokelau with only 10 km² land area. The population of these islands varies
from 725 000 inhabitants in Fiji to only 1 600 inhabitants in Tokelau.
The small size and isolation of the South Pacific countries pose
many constraints to agricultural development and production on which all the
islands are largely dependent for food and export earnings. With very limited
resources, the islands are endeavouring to produce a range of agricultural
commodities to meet local food needs and secure foreign exchange earnings for
To develop the agricultural sectors of the South Pacific
countries, new approaches will be needed to make the most of the scarce
resources on the islands. Governments and producers are looking to the
agricultural research institutions for new solutions. Research can make a
significant contribution to increasing the production of local foodstuffs thus
reducing the dependence on imported food and the vagaries of transport. Research
will also be needed to identify crops and postharvest methods to develop
Conservation and management of natural resources is also an
important area where more research is needed. On many of the atolls and on the
volcanic islands with steep hillsides, soils are fragile, and need to be
conserved. There are some encouraging signs. In Fiji, for example, careful
management of forest resources can provide a secure base to support the
islands economic growth.
The agricultural research systems in the Pacific Islands are
generally, as expected, very small, have extremely limited resources and are
highly dependent upon expatriate staff and external donor assistance for their
research activities. Only Papua New Guinea and Fiji in the region have a
reasonably sized national research system of about 50 research scientists. In
the other countries the number of research scientists varies from 21 in Tonga to
just one in Tokelau and Tuvalu. In most of these islands, over half and in the
case of Vanuatu almost all the research scientists are expatriates. The local
research scientists in the region are inadequately trained with over 75% having
only a first degree.
There are also many partners that support agricultural research
and development efforts in the region, such as the EEC, Australia, USAID and
other donor countries. There are also the important research and development
programmes of CIRAD, financed by France and based in Vanuatu and New Caledonia.
Other research is done in private or parastatal organisations as is the case
with sugar research in Fiji, and coffee, cocoa, coconut and oil palm research in
Papua New Guinea.
The role of strategic planning in national agricultural research
Organising agricultural research in this complex environment
requires strategic planning to focus these national and regional efforts on
those areas where they are likely to do the most good. Strategic planning is
also important for mobilising and coordinating these diverse research
organisations and efforts around the national and regional development policies.
The Workshop on Strategic Planning for National Agricultural
Research Systems in Small Countries of the South Pacific focused on ways to
overcome the following six major constraints to effective and efficient research
· Although most of the NARS in
the South Pacific region are located within the Ministries of Agriculture,
Livestock, Forests or Fisheries, government policy makers are not fully aware of
the benefits of agricultural research and many research organisations suffer
from a lack of funding support.
· The small numbers of
researchers in these countries have to deal with a wide range of commodities
grown or raised in a number of agro-ecological zones and a variety of farming
systems. Their resources are limited and without careful planning and setting
priorities, it is difficult for researchers to focus their efforts.
· The majority of NARS in the
region do not have research plans, and priority areas for research and
development of NARS are not clearly identified. When working with limited
resources, it is critical that key areas of development of NARS and priority
areas for research are clearly defined so that the limited resources can be put
to the best use.
· Research is often carried out
in a number of ministries, departments or sections in the government. In
addition there are important research efforts taking place in parastatal or
private commodity organisations. The need for coordination and a coherent
national research policy is great even in small countries.
· Only the countries with larger
NARS, Fiji and Papua New Guinea, have the capacity to develop or transform new
technologies. Most research systems screen and test technologies developed
elsewhere for their application within the country. However, the small NARS have
great difficulty in developing and maintaining linkages with the large number of
institutions that produce relevant technologies. The small size of research
units, their isolation, relatively inexperienced research staffs and poor
resources make it almost impossible for the small NARS in the region to borrow
knowledge and technology from external sources.
· A special characteristic of
NARS in small countries is that researchers are often called upon to fulfil
various non-research functions. These include seed production, seed testing,
quarantine, and provision of analytical and advisory services in soils, plant
nutrition and plant protection. In many cases they are also representatives to
the world scientific community and valued advisors to government.
Strategic planning of national agricultural research will
improve the link between government policy and research organisations. Increased
support for research would then be matched to more relevant research programmes
that address the priority problems facing farmers and consumers in the South
Pacific nations. International donors and technical assistance agencies also
play a big role supporting the regions research and development efforts.
Strategic planning of national agricultural research allows these external
partners to target their assistance more effectively and in accordance with the
policies and priorities of the countries. In general, the improved management
and planning of national research is crucial if the limited resources available
in the South Pacific are to have an impact on the problems facing South Pacific
Training for planning research
FAO, CTA, ISNAR, and IRETA have been involved in assisting the
small countries in the South Pacific to improve their planning and management
skills in agricultural research for over a decade. ISNAR has conducted reviews
of research systems in several countries and assisted in developing research
plans and provided management training to research leaders. The FAO has
implemented numerous research projects and supported the training of
researchers. The CTA has assisted IRETA to develop a network for the exchange of
agricultural information and improving the linkages of NARS with external
sources of information. CTA has also supported new research initiatives such as
those of the South Pacific Commission. IRETA, a regional institution, has the
mandate to assist the South Pacific countries in research, extension and
training. It implements various research projects in the region and provides
some graduate and post-graduate training through the School of Agriculture of
the University of the South Pacific.
These organisations pooled their efforts to sponsor this latest
workshop on strategic planning held in March, 1991. The workshop was modelled on
previous FAO/ISNAR workshops organised in Latin America and the Caribbean. It
also drew upon lessons learned from a global study by ISNAR on the the
Scale and Scope of National Agricultural Research in Small Developing
Twenty-three Directors of Research and Senior Research
Scientists from 10 South Pacific Island countries attended the workshop. The
resource persons included Mr. Huntington Hobbs, Dr. Gabrielle Persley and Dr.
Pablo Eyzaguirre of ISNAR, M. Mohunji Narain of CTA, Dr. Berndt Muller-Haye and
Dr. Ralph Kwaschik of FAO/UNDP, Mr. Param Sivan and Dr. Mohammed Umar of IRETA
and Dr. Malcolm Hazelman of the South Pacific Commission.
The main objective was to improve the planning skills of
research managers. This entailed providing the research managers with a broader
understanding of their complex role. The workshop identified new and emerging
challenges and opportunities for research leaders in small systems. Finally, the
workshop organisers led small groups designed to introduce and improve the use
of strategic planning as a tool for meeting the evolving challenges of
The workshop was opened by the Minister for Agriculture of
Western Samoa, the Honourable Afioga Pule Lameko. The Minister in his speech
stressed the aspirations of the small countries in the South Pacific to develop
agriculture as the basis of their economies. He also stressed the need to
conserve the fragile environments on many of the islands. The minister
acknowledged the support given by the sponsors to improve the planning and
management of research in the South Pacific. The participants expressed their
hope that improved planning would allow their research units to make a larger
contribution to agricultural development in the region.
The workshop was divided into three main sections. In the first
section, the general issues affecting NARS in the South Pacific were discussed.
In a long-term planning exercise, the research leaders discussed their vision of
South Pacific agriculture in the year 2000. How new scientific advances such as
biotechnology would affect agriculture and research in the region were
highlighted. Regional cooperation and consolidating efforts at the regional
level as in the case of IRETA and the South Pacific Commission were also seen to
be of increasing importance in the future.
Table 1: Indicators of country size
and agricultural research effort in selected South Pacific countries
The second part of the workshop dealt with Strategic Planning.
This included two lead papers presented by ISNAR which introduced the
participants to strategic planning and discussed the basic elements of a
strategic plan for a small-country NARS. Case study exercises sharpened the
skills of the participating leaders. The participants found this extremely
The third part of the workshop included discussion on challenges
and opportunities for the manager of a small-country NARS led by ISNAR and
discussions on project preparation for agricultural research, monitoring and
evaluation led by FAO.
The South Pacific research leaders found the Strategic Planning
workshop to be very useful and requested follow-up training and assistance in
this area. Project formulation, and planning, monitoring and evaluation of
research were also very useful and a follow-up work shop fully devoted to this
area would be of great interest to the region.
Among the major recommendations coming out of the workshop were
that South Pacific NARS leaders required follow-up training in the areas of
strategic planning, priority-setting for research, project preparation for
research and monitoring and evaluation of projects. The national research
systems also require assistance to develop national research plans (at present
most of them do not have plans) that guide the long term development of their
institutions define the priority areas for their research programmes, and
indicate the level of resources required.
The workshop produced a greater understanding of the challenges
and opportunities for agricultural research in the region. With their newly
acquired skills, South Pacific research leaders hope to use strategic planning
to enable their agricultural research systems to define their goals, focus their
efforts, and identify mechanisms for coordinating activities and resources. In
this way they can ensure that research in the South Pacific contributes to
agricultural production that provides balanced growth in the face of the
inherent problems of small size and a limited natural resource base.