Plant Health

The Pacific’s fragile ecosystem is constantly at risk from invasive species, pests and diseases. It is therefore vital that sustainable and appropriate management practices are developed and utilized to ensure   sustained productive use of the land. Plant Health aims to promote these practices by utilizing its three main units, entomology, pathology and weeds in undertaking regular surveys of pests and diseases, providing information, creating awareness among farmers,  updating information databases and assisting in eradication activities. 

SPC collaborates with FAO to reduce hazardous pesticides in food production
Thursday, 26 September 2013 10:07
Promoting alternatives to pesticides in the production of high-value crops is the main aim of a regional project implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) in collaboration with Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Country scientists and stakeholders held their Project Advisory Group meeting in Nukualofa, Tonga, from 16–20 September 2013, to review national activities and finalise work plans for the next year. The project is implemented by SPC’s Land Resources Division with coordination by by IPM Officer, Mr Fereti Atu.

Pacific farmers planting high-value crops, such as cabbages and tomatoes use large amounts of synthetic chemicals fertilisers and pesticides to increase production and yields. This practice over the years has led to degraded soils with nutrient loss and low organic matter. The regional collaborative project with national stakeholders is an attempt to identify alternatives to chemicals in the production of high-value crops. The project countries are Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga.

Tonga Ministry of Agriculture, Forests and Fisheries CEO, Ms Losaline Ma’asi opened the meeting of plant health officers, emphasizing their Ministry’s support to finding alternatives to chemicals in farming for human and environmental safety. She noted the large-scale production of vegetables in Tongatapu and was concerned about the amount of chemicals that go into these farms.

In his keynote address, Dr Viliami Fakava, FAO Plant Production and Protection Officer based in Samoa, told delegates that in 2012, worldwide sale of pesticides were almost fifty billion dollars and yet, only a fraction of applied pesticides actually reach the pests they are intended to target. The rest ends up as contamination.

‘Today’s agriculture needs to be different from that of the past. To fight hunger and eradicate poverty, we will need to find more sustainable ways to produce 60 per cent more food by 2050,’ said Dr Fakava.

’The quest for sustainability is now central to FAO’s newly redefined Strategic Objectives. We work with countries, farmers and other organisations to promote sustainable food systems and employment in a number of ways.’

The project’s central focus is the use of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) practices to incorporate alternatives to chemicals and, ultimately, reduce dependence on pesticides and increase the use of natural alternatives. The project is working on crops Brassicas (cabbages) and cucurbits (watermelon and squash) to introduce alternatives to chemicals in the control of the two main pests, diamond back moth (DBM) and large cabbage moth (LCM).

The use of natural enemies of plant pests or bioagents, plant derived pesticides, and plants that trap or repel insect pests are IPM practices being promoted as options to chemicals. The naturally occurring biocontrol bacterium, Bt is being researched to be promoted as part of the pest management package. The project is also conducting studies on resistance of Brassica pests to four common pesticides to address a concern about insecticide resistance.

Brassicas and cucurbits were selected based on the large quantities of pesticides which are currently used in their production and the availability of proven alternative technologies.

Extension method Farmer Field School (FFS) and action research are the principal knowledge and skills-sharing platforms to build capacity in alternative technologies. As well, extension workers go through the ‘train of trainers’ (ToT) exercise to study the behaviour of pests through one crop cycle. The aim is to learn appropriate management strategies applied at different stages of insect life. Farmer associations and non-government organisations also participate in FFS to learn sustainable pest management strategies.

Concurrent with the FAO project is the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) Integrated Crop Management (ICM) project also implemented by SPC with the same country sites, which also looks at developing sustainable technologies to manage agricultural pests. Project Coordinator, Dr Mike Furlong attended the PAG meeting to finalise work plan activities.

LRD Plant Health Team lead by Dr Tony Gunua and IPM Officer Fereti Atu helped facilitate the PAG meeting providing support and technical advice. The next PAG meeting of stakeholders will be in Apia in February 2014.

For more information, please contact Fereti Atu ( 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 ).


Effective management can help maintain productivity of land resources,stregthen food security, safeguard the environment and increase revenue. Plant Health strives to improve awareness on environmental implications of agricultural practices and offering safer environmentally friendly options.