11 February 2020 – A PIDF Programme team consisting of Team Leader Mark Borg, Coordinator Afsrin Ali and Intern Jordan Longworth visited the Permanent Secretary of the Fiji Ministry of Agriculture Mr Ritesh Dass and the Chief Economist Ms Sera Bose to share information on PIDF initiatives as well as explore areas of collaboration.
Mark Borg began the discussion with an overview of PIDF and the goals toward a blue and green economy, emphasis on creating sustainable green agricultural practices. There was an understanding of the gaps in knowledge between the sustainable methods, education available, and outreach to the necessary communities.
Green Fertilisers was the first topic of conversation building off the example of the Crown of Thorns starfish (COTS) and seaweed that produces organic fertilisers. An alternative to typical chemical fertilisers would bring successful outcomes, such as harvesting of copious and harmful species, as a replacement for artificial fertiliser, reduce harmful and polluting run-off, and create income generation. The PS agreed that there is an importance to transition to green fertilisers in Fiji and greener agricultural practices overall. Questions were raised about the longevity of the crown of thorns and seaweed as a fertiliser. The conclusion was that we focus on the initial problem of removing the harmful species and create a business for the fertiliser. There is a collective agreement that the fertilisers should remain privatised and generate abusiness mentality for economic gain to be present. It will also aid in the transition to make agriculture in Fiji “green” or even organic. The fertiliser is undergoing a pilot program that can be replicated if successful. There is supportive literature of using these two resources separately as fertiliser, but the combination of COTS and Seaweed together covers the whole spectrum of minerals needed and can replace widely used artificial chemical fertilisers such as NPK. Questions around the logistics of the harvesting, producing, and selling of the fertiliser is present and will be an outcome of the pilot project. COTS is found throughout Fiji, therefore if the pilot is successful, it can be replicated throughout the Pacific. The trial research results, which are undertaken by USP, FLMMA and with funding from PIDF, will be available by May 2020.
The PS Agriculture voiced the support of the Ministry for the project as it aligns with its agenda to regulate the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides. PIDF was invited to attend roundtables addressing the need for green fertilisers in the future. The link to NPK was addressed with the use of chemical fertilisers and health concerns overall as a byproduct of unsafe fertilisers. The PS can use literature and findings from the COTS and seaweed model to make submissions to support this through upcoming budget proposals.
Bamboo was briefly discussed due to the already established partnerships with the Ministry of Forestry and Ministry of women. Bamboo can aid in the commodification of harvesting bamboo shoots and prevention of soil erosion which is a concern for the Ministry of agriculture. There is hope to move this project forward by adding bamboo to the building code.
Climate-smart agriculture is of interest to the Pacific Islands due to flooding and drought conditions. PIDF has signed a MOU with Fiji Crop and Livestock Council to develop Climate Smart Agriculture including promotion of flood and drought-resistant varieries for climate change adaptation. There is potential to explore what the Ministry of agriculture is pursuing and for PIDF to support in this area. The PS raised concerns about a lack of knowledge in this area. An idea arose around having an umbrella institute on these agricultural practices with additional areas of excellence, such as commodity products like kava and specific experts to aid the overarching climate change resistant crops. Knowledge can be obtained from comparing nations with advanced agriculture concepts to gain external support.
Lastly, waste created as a byproduct of agriculture was a significant topic of conversation. There is substantial opportunity to reuse waste generated in sugar and rice production; for example, the rice husks can be used to produce bagasse to use in products that offer an alternative to Styrofoam boxes. A concern is the funding necessary to initiate these projects. The PS talked about connecting supply chain and collection centers for the waste produced then allowing easy access to the agricultural waste. A priority to ensure that this project is viable is proving that it can be a profitable business. There currently are no active projects on reusing agricultural waste in Fiji to both PIDF and the PS’s knowledge. There is potential in using coconut mills waste, where currently they burn the coconut husks as fuel to dry the copra. The PS was excited about the possibilities that using agricultural waste could bring, such as job creation, sourcing to international markets, and eliminating waste in Fiji’s environment. Many international examples can be utilised for knowledge, such as the use of the Banana leaf for plates. This idea can be connected as well to the Ministry of the environment to aid in resources and inviting private companies to participate. There is a six-month timeline for a clear pathway in obtaining recommendations on how to move forward with reusing agricultural waste.