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Centre Established To Improve Atoll Agriculture

Centre Established In South Tarawa, Kiribati, To Improve Atoll Agriculture

A new research and development centre for atoll agriculture is being established in south Tarawa, Kiribati, at the research station of the Department of Agriculture at Tanaea.

The Centre of Excellence for Atoll Agriculture Research and Development in the Pacific will become a focal point for Pacific scientists working on the development of technologies to help atoll farmers increase their productivity.

Producing food crops on an atoll island requires perseverance. Nil or almost no land resources coupled with infertile coralline soils and long spells of dry weather make any form of agriculture very difficult. As a result, atoll communities face problems in maintaining food security and eating a balanced diet. Technologies to increase food crop production will improve local food supplies and nutrition. Other benefits will include more market opportunities for farmers and higher incomes.

For a number of years, governments of atoll countries and territories have asked regional and international organisations working in the fields of agriculture and forestry to give special attention to their research and development needs. In their 2007 Vava'u Communiqué, Pacific Islands Forum Leaders called on SPC to develop a new agriculture and forestry initiative with a focus on atoll agriculture. The new centre has been established in response to these requests.

'SPC is proud to partner with the Government of Kiribati and IFAD in establishing this centre of excellence,' said Mr 'Aleki Sisifa, Director of SPC's Land Resources Division, who is attending the official opening in Kiribati this week. 'The centre is the beginning of a process that we hope will attract more assistance from the international community for research and development of improved technology and best practice for agriculture and agroforestry on atoll islands, including the high islands of the region.'

An R&D programme has been developed and agreed on between the main partners - the Kiribati Government, IFAD and SPC - and a memorandum of understanding will be signed. IFAD will provide most of the financing and SPC will manage the programme, provide technical backup and organise equipment and supplies. A programme coordinator has been recruited to coordinate and implement the programme. The Government of Kiribati is providing the facilities and from time to time will contribute labour, materials and supplies, as required.

Research activities will be undertaken with the full participation of farmers themselves. The centre will emphasise the use of participatory methods to engage target groups to promote local produce and to revive production of traditional food. It will also emphasise gender equity and seek the involvement of women and youth in agricultural and fisheries production.

Initial research priorities for the Centre will include documenting some of the proven technologies used in the region; for example, banana circles in Kiribati, coconut hydroponics in French Polynesia, and indigenous agroforestry systems such as pulaka pits. The Centre will also source appropriate and transferable technologies developed on atolls in other regions, such as the Maldives and Caribbean.

The centre's research areas will include soil improvement, water harvest and irrigation, crops adapted to atoll conditions, pest and disease control, improved local livestock breeds, waste management, and improved agroforestry systems.

Technologies developed or refined at the centre will be tested by farmers in Tarawa and on outer islands of Kiribati and other Pacific atolls using established outreach approaches such as farmer field schools. Information on successful technologies will also be made available through specially developed extension materials.

ENDS

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