A regional workshop to review strategies to improve the capacity of small-holders to integrate markets and improve market chains is being held in Nadi, Fiji this week, 24-25 October 2011.

The needs of small-holders are often not reflected in government policy, and the lack of investment in the private sector, coupled with infrastructural limitations, is hampering economic development. It is to develop strategies to improve market chains for small-holders that the European Union (EU) All ACP Agricultural Commodities Programme (AAACP) started a four-year programme with the Pacific Kick-Off Workshop held in Apia, Samoa in 2008, at which the EU sought to determine the type of external assistance needed to build the capacity of commodity dependent stakeholders in the Pacific region.

Several international organisations collaborated to arrange this Pacific AAACP Dissemination Workshop, including the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Trade Centre (ITC), the Coordination Unit of AAACP, the United Nations Conference on Trade (UNCTAD), and the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC). Over 50 regional and international representatives are attending the two-day workshop.

Foreign technical assistance has focused until now on improving fundamental supply side capabilities. The sectoral strategies under AAACP aim to develop a stronger link between market and business development objectives and requirements on the one hand, and supply activities on the other hand. Delegates representing farmer organisations, government policy makers, farmer NGOs, donor partners and the private sector are this week reviewing assistance provided under the AAACP. Experiences from the Caribbean are also being shared at the workshop from producer groups attending the meeting.

In his opening remarks to workshop participants, Fiji Ambassador to the EU Peceli Vocea highlighted the impact of the sectoral strategies and the innovative market chain approaches that are helping to increase the capacity of producer organisations. 'When the programme collaborated with Fiji, Tonga and Samoa to develop sectoral strategies, it was the objective to demonstrate that participatory approaches can be replicated in other countries, indeed in other ACP regions beyond the Pacific. This workshop is the junction where we take stock, examine what has worked, identify best practices to replicate or scale-up, and talk to our development partners of the need to sustain and continue activities identified in the programme,' said Ambassador Vocea.

Acting Director of SPC Land Resources Division, Mr Inoke Ratukalou, in welcoming the participants to Fiji, said that interventions such as AAACP have helped provide a strategic focus on the fruit and vegetable sector in Samoa, as well address issues faced by small-holders. 'SPC will continue to work to link its partner institutions and projects, and promote effective coordination among them, as well as project implementation. We hope to share our experience of implementing agricultural and small-holder livelihoods projects in the region, to assist with the development of sustainable and effective interventions.' Assistance for SPC on technical support for the AAACP is through FAO.

The development of the Samoa Fruit and Vegetable Sector Strategy 2009-2014 is an activity that came out of the Kick-Off Workshop held in Samoa in 2008 as part of the EU AAACP developed in consultation with stakeholders, the Samoa Ministry of Agriculture and ITC. The emphasis is on revitalising the fruit and vegetable industry through the value-chain approach, targeting farmers, private sector enterprises, processors, buyers, policy makers and support institutions. It focuses on domestic, regional and international markets and social development objectives, and is aligned to existing initiatives such as the Strategic Development Plan of Samoa. It is also an integral part of the Agricultural Sector Plan being developed by the Samoa Ministry of Agriculture. Under the AAACP, FAO provided support to ITC and the sector stakeholders for the development of the strategy.

The development of the sector-wide holistic strategy for coconuts and coconut products in Solomon Islands is another activity of the AAACP, with support provided by ITC and SPC. Presently, there is a high reliance on copra exports, which is very risky due to the price-taking nature of the industry. The strategy aims to modernise the coconut industry by 2020 and focuses on capitalising on existing opportunities for improved income generation for rural areas, as well as promoting investment for the development and strengthening of the processing and value-added industries. The strategy development process has already had an impact through the establishment by government of the Solomon Island Coconut Sector Industry Secretariat (SICIS), comprising elected members representing private and public institutions. Since 2009, SICIS has worked on a voluntary basis to lead the strategy development process and plan for implementation using ITC's market-led participatory approach.

At the Nadi workshop this week, representatives from Kastom Gardens (Solomon Islands) and the Tonga Growers Federation gave an account of the assistance provided by the AAACP to strengthen capacity by improving value-chain approaches, developing business plans, and training in financial management of small-holder enterprises.

An idea being floated at the workshop is the establishment of a regional secretariat for small-holders in the Pacific. The secretariat will be hosted by a Pacific small-holder or farmer organisation to coordinate capacity strengthening and improve linkages to markets.

Also introduced at the workshop is the idea of forming a Pacific-Caribbean consortium of smallholder producers.

Outcomes of the workshop will be shared amongst delegates and donor partners.