Developing Cleaner Export Pathways for Pacific Commodities
Tuesday, 01 June 2010 11:15

Historical and cultural ties, as well as proximity make Australia and New Zealand the major trading partners of PICs. The Australian and New Zealand Governments, via the PACER (Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations) arrangement through the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), Pacific Islands Trade and Investment Commission (PITIC), and SPC have been assisting in encouraging increased trade between Pacific Island Countries (PICs), including Australia and New Zealand.

The PICs limited ability to meet biosecurity requirements imposes a severe constraint on their capacity to increase export markets for currently important commodities and develop exports of a new range of products. Having profitable production, supply chain and export protocol options and the technical capacity to develop new options further encourage growers, exporters and others to increase the range, volume and export of commodities leading to an increase in prosperity for PICs.

In response to a proposal from SPC, for support in the development of alternative disinfestation technologies, ACIAR commissioned a small research activity PC/2008/029 on ‘Cost Effective Disinfestation Treatments for Pacific Horticulture – Scoping Study’.  After reviewing a range of high-value commodities currently being considered for export by Fiji and other PICs, as well as researchable constraints affecting them, the study suggested that priority should be given to taro with a subsidiary focus on ornamentals (cut flowers and foliage). The project would build local capacity to continue such work and thus open up the possibility of working on other root crops (especially yam, cassava, sweet potato and ginger), depending on opportunities and needs identified during the course of this project and thereafter.

The quarantine concerns identified in these commodities include external pests and contaminants (e.g. mites, mealybugs, thrips, scales, ants, snails, spiders etc.) while additional concerns in root crops are the presence of soil and of nematodes typically present in root hairs and in 2mm of skin tissue. Interceptions at export and point-of-entry of various living organisms currently lead to enforced and importer initiated fumigations (usually with methyl bromide) which can increase costs and adversely affect the quality and shelf-life of produce. These on-arrival fumigations occur with such regularity that potentially valuable commodity chains, such as that for taro export from Fiji to New Zealand, are only marginally profitable. Based on this assessment, the project aims to identify and evaluate alternative production, supply chain and export regimes (including post harvest treatments if required) to increase profitability and sustainability.

The former ACIAR project TaroPest already provides some of the baseline information needed by the project.

Hot water treatment is used to disinfest fruits against fruitfly and fungal diseases, ornamentals from homopterans and fungal diseases, yams for planting, banana rhizomes for planting in other countries such as USA (Hawaii), Philippines and West Africa and Solomon Islands. This project is consistent with ACIAR’s operating plans for the Pacific Islands to enhance smallholder incomes from agriculture through export and diversification.  It contributes to Pacific Islands Country Subprogram 3: Biosecurity and pest and disease management – Development and adoption of integrated crop management packages (including pest, weed and disease control).

The project aims to:

  • work initially with Fiji quarantine authorities but maintain scope for extension of the project to other PICs if considered appropriate;
  • develop production, supply chain and export pathways (including post harvest treatments for pests if required) for taro and ornamentals that greatly reduce the incidence of on-arrival pest interception and contamination and the need for emergency treatments;
  • increase the profitability of export pathways for taro and ornamentals to Australia and New Zealand through reduced pest interceptions, contamination and emergency treatments; and
  • provide additional experience for SPC and Fiji quarantine staff in international market access negotiations, production, supply chain and export pathway analysis and refinement.