A successful public-private partnership in Cook Islands is helping the country realise its plans to revitalise agriculture by developing organic farming. The partnership is this week (3-8 May) being highlighted at a meeting of the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) in Papeete, French Polynesia.

The Cook Islands delegation is led by Associate Minister Hon. Kiariau Turepu; Director of Agriculture, Mr Anthony Brown; and the President of the Titikaveka Growers Association and founding POETCom member, Mr Teava Iro.

Mr Anthony Brown took the floor to describe the successful and innovative public-private partnership, which has the aim of promoting 'green growth' in balmy Cook Islands. His presentation allowed POETCom members to examine how such an initiative can contribute to national plans to commit to organic and biological agriculture.

The Cook Islands National Sustainable Development Strategy states, 'Unlocking potential from our agricultural production is best achieved by revitalising agriculture through better partnerships between government and farmers, and our efforts to revitalise agriculture will be based upon the principles of biological/organic production and its best practices, aligned to our desire for green growth'. This led to five policy initiatives for the Ministry of Agriculture in 2011 and 2012, one of which was to promote and support biological/organic agriculture for Cook Islands.

Mr Brown, describing Cook Islands' journey towards embracing organic and biological agriculture, said the process had humble beginnings when the Ministry acknowledged a 'lack of experience' in organic farming. Subsequently, the Ministry addressed this lack of technical capacity by engaging local partner, Titikaveka Growers Association (TGA), which has vast experience in organic and biological farming. A memorandum of understanding (MOU) formalised this union, with the Ministry of Agriculture funding a consultant to develop a framework with TGA.

To realise the full potential of this new agriculture paradigm, farmers need support in terms of inputs and infrastructure. This became the first challenge - to develop an enabling environment to facilitate the new direction, and invest in infrastructure.

NZAID assisted TGA to build a compost facility to recycle organic waste in many forms to serve as feeders for manure application, liquid fertilizer and seed raising mix for a nursery.

TGA also manages a nursery for development of food crops . This was funded by the Adventist Development Agency and supported by two technicians from the Ministry of Agriculture.

In capacity training, the ongoing farmer training programme is proving successful in developing skills in organic farming. The initiative adopts the soil school extension method, with training provided by National Environment Services, Organic Matters Foundation and the Ministry of Agriculture.

All the actors along the organic farming value chain are helping Cook Island farmers with their transition to organic and biological agriculture and contributing to the island nation's green development agenda.

The POETCom meeting is funded by the Government of French Polynesia, assisted by the French Pacific Fund, and organized in partnership with local POETCom body Eden Parc. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community, through the EU Increasing Agricultural Commodities Trade (IACT) project, is also supporting the meeting, in line with the project objective of strengthening the technical capacity of governments and the private sector to increase market access and penetration for niche and value-added products.