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. 

Tonga hosts integrated crop management stakeholders meeting
Monday, 11 March 2013 08:56

Thursday 7 March 2013, Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), Tonga –

A regional project to strengthen capacity in integrated crop management (ICM) held its third project advisory group (PAG) meeting in Tonga, from 13-15 March 2013.

The four project countries are Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga, countries that are seen as relatively high users of pesticides on high value crops. The ICM project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and adopts a multifaceted approach inclusive of plant health clinics (pest and diseases diagnostics), academic research (insecticide resistance), and applied research (crop varietal evaluation and production). The ICM project is linked to another ACIAR project examining the participatory guarantee scheme (commodity-market supply chain) to strengthen the vegetable value-chain. Completion of these objectives at the end of project life will see successful development of technologies to transfer to farmers on sustainable intensification of high value crop production.

In opening the 3rd PAG meeting, Tonga’s Minister for Agriculture, Food, Forestry and Fisheries, the Hon. Sangster Saulala, said that identifying sustainable technologies to manage pests without resorting too much to using chemicals is good for human health as well as the environment. He noted the indiscriminate use of chemicals by farmers and welcomed the efforts of the ACIAR-ICM project to identify suitable bio-pesticides – which are natural enemies and plant derived – for the sustainable management of crop pests.

Critical in the production of high value cash crops, is the use of bio-pesticides and mucuna bean ground cover. The ACIAR-ICM project will link to private pesticide resellers for the import of bio-pesticides, in particular the naturally occurring fungus Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) insecticide but also include plant derived pesticides such as neem and derris. Bt trials are to be carried out in the project countries. Pesticide resellers will be assisted with facilitation of the import permit of the Bt bio-pesticide, as this formulation is currently not available as a commercial product in the countries.

Project research areas include studies on the regional status of the diamond back moth insecticide resistance and investigating the biological control agent, Tricograma chilonis for the management of the large cabbage moth. The biocontrol agent T. chilonis is being sourced from Samoa.

Also on the agenda of the advisory group meeting was an update on the operation of the plant health clinics being trialed in Solomon Islands.  The clinics are held at public places such as markets to intercept pests and diseases.  Several clinics have completed last year in Honiara and results were presented by Maria Gharuka, plant health specialist with Solomon Islands MAL. Chipping in to help conduct the plant health clinics are the NGOs Kastom Gardens Association (KGA) and Vois Blong Mary (VBM), both are prominent in rural development efforts. A review of the clinics will be conducted later this year, and subsequent roll-out to other project countries depends on this review.

Linked to the plant health clinics is the production of farmer fact sheets. Over 100 fact sheets on pests and diseases have been produced and have been a useful resource at the plant health clinics. Project countries are now tasked to produce their own fact sheets; they will be assisted by veteran Pacific plant health specialist, Dr Graham Jackson.

Tonga Director of Research, Sione Foliaki hosted the group at Vaini Research Station. The small but dedicated staff at Vaini conduct research on evaluation of climate ready crops, varietal screening of kava, cassava, yams and sweet potato, and field evaluations of banana and taro varieties from CePaCT. On biocontrol plant health technician Emeline is working to maintain field populations of diamond back moth (DBM) and Waite (a DBM lab strain from Adelaide). To further understand DBM resistance to various insecticides in Tonga bio-assays are conducted on different DBM populations.

AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center have developed a molecular diagnostic tool for chili anthracnose which country partners could use for rapid diagnosis of causal pathogen. Tomato variety trials were conducted in all project countries and varieties were selected to enter confirmation stage in 2013. Surveys were conducted in Fiji to understand current practices of vegetable farmers on production, postharvest, and marketing aspects. Results showed that vegetable farmers consider pest damage as the most important constraint and pesticide application as the most common way to counter the problem. The Technical Cooperation Programme of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO TCP) is conducting similar surveys in other countries. The results can be compiled to prepare a useful publication.  Soil health status was assessed in selected farms in Fiji. Results indicated the need to increase organic matter and available nutrients for vegetable production.

Participants took time out and visited a commercial Xanthosoma taro farm that is supplying fresh taro leaves directly to Tongan nationals in New Zealand. The informal market sector in Tonga is very well developed, with farmers sending containers of produce directly to their families in New Zealand, timed to arrive for busy Saturday morning markets.

At the end of the three-day meeting, an integrated work plan was formulated, identifying projected national and regional activities to be conducted by SPC.

The ACIAR-funded ICM project is a collaborative effort of regional and international stakeholders and is implemented by SPC Land Resources Division. Project research partners include national Ministry’s of Agriculture, University of Queensland, AVRDC - The World Vegetable Centre, and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC).

Joining forces with the ACIAR ICM project is a project of the Technical Cooperation Programme of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO TCP). This project, also based at SPC Land Resources Division, promotes techniques to reduce hazardous pesticide use and strengthen integrated pest management in the Pacific. The rationale behind combining the two projects is similarity of objectives, as well as sharing of personnel and resources.

SPC technical support is provided by the LRD Plant Health Team led by team leader, Dr Tony Gunua (Plant Pathologist), Mr Maclean Vagalo (Entomologist), Fereti Atu (IPM Coordinator), Nitesh Nand (Project Technician), and Emil Adams (Information and Communications).

Dr Mike Furlong of the University of Queensland provides overall project coordination and technical advice. Dr Jaw-Fen Wang coordinates research activities of AVRDC – The World Vegetable Centre, as project research partner. Dr Graham Jackson of Terra Circle coordinates information and documentation including managing the plant health clinics. It is planned for the ACIAR ICM project to gain membership to CABI to allow project countries access to the Crop Protection Compendium.

A proposal for a similar ICM project but with the focus on Pacific island root crops was introduced to the PAG members. Country representatives gave their priority list of root crops for consideration. This session was conducted by Dr Richard Markham of ACIAR Pacific Office.

The next advisory group meeting to monitor progress will be held in Vava’u in September.

For more information, please contact Tony Gunua ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ), SPC Plant Pathologist, or Fereti Atu ( 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.