Information, Communications & Extension

The ICE thematic group contributes to achieving LRD objectives of improving food security and well-being of member countries by promoting innovative extension approaches to communicate information and promote new technologies for the sustainable management of agricultural and forest resources.

SPC collaborates with ACIAR to improve soil health
Thursday, 27 March 2014 15:15

Scientific research continues on the island of Taveuni, Fiji, to find ways for farmers to improve soil health to support the FJD 20 million taro export industry, with 80% of the tausala taro variety exported by Fiji produced on Taveuni.  The research to improve soil health started in 2011 as part of a project implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in collaboration with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and Fiji Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) Taveuni research and extension staff. Technical assistance is provided by Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The soil health improvement project is also implemented in Samoa and Kiribati.

Taveuni soils have been depleted and thus lack the diverse nutrient resources to adequately support intensive farming, especially the taro industry. The research project was developed to address this problem. The goal is to identify and recommend to farmers best agronomic practices to maintain healthy soils for good crop yields. The common understanding is that if you keep the soil healthy by increasing the availability of nutrients, the soil will support robust crop growth and keep levels of pests and diseases low.

The SPC team consisting of Dr Siua Halavatau, Fereti Atu and Takaniko Ruabete of the Land Resources Division is working with stakeholders TeiTei Taveuni farmers and Fiji MPI to look at soil improvement practices on taro farms. These soil improvement treatments include addition of fish manure, rock phosphate, biobrew, biochar, urea, NPK (13:13:21) fertiliser, and mucuna ground cover. The treatments were also tested against farmers’ present practices, which differed at each site.

The TeiTei Taveuni farm sites on which the research on the soil improvement treatments were carried out spanned the three zones of the island: north, central and southern. At harvest, data were recorded from selected parameters including soil chemistry, soil biology, soil physics, entomology, pathology, and economics. As expected, data collected differed across farm sites. Data were also collected on corm length, width and weight, as well as percentages of rejects. Soil samples were taken at the different sites for nematode counts. Plant nutrient analysis was used to gauge levels of nutrients present in the plant (using the specific leaf area as an indicator) and to give an indication of whether there are sufficient nutrients to sustain growth to crop maturity. Research results in 2012 found that using fish manure and rock phosphate worked best overall, with the recommended NPK application working slightly less well. The trials were repeated in 2013 comparing these two best bets and adding a third treatment – farmer’s practice (which differed for each site). In the 2013 trials, the three treatments were applied with or without biochar and with or without mucuna. Management of trial plots including weed control is the responsibility of each farmer.

The SPC team travelled to Taveuni earlier this year to harvest the second round of trials and collect data to confirm the recommended practices from the earlier trials. Thus far, the research points strongly to the practice of adding fish manure and rock phosphate as producing consistently good yields as compared to the other treatments. Variations were observed with the variables biobrew, mucuna and biochar.

The SPC/ACIAR soil health research is undertaken in tandem with the Australian Aid Program’s taro rehabilitation project and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Technical Cooperation Programme’s mucuna trials, with technical assistant from SPC through its Land Resources Division plant health specialists. The trials are carried out at Taveuni Research and Development Centre.

For more information, please This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , or Emil Adams ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it )

Photo caption: a Taveuni farmer site with robust taro growth from improved soil nutrient availability.

ICELRD’s core business is to improve the food and nutritional security of the Pacific Community through the sustainable management and development of land, agriculture and forestry resources. This is accomplished through the delivery of technical support, training and advice to our member country governments in the areas of plant protection, conservation and use of plant genetic resources, animal health and production, agroforestry, sustainable systems for agriculture, forestry and land management, and biosecurity and trade facilitation.

The Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services (HOAFS) is the leading regional body providing guidance to LRD work plans. The biannual HOAFS Meeting endorses LRD work plans and budget. The office of the LRD Executive acts as the Secretariat for HOAFS.