The Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Development, Hon. Connelly Sandakabatu, has launched a new Pacific-wide initiative to help increase agricultural exports and increase foreign earnings for the country.

The Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Program (PHAMA) is an Australian-funded project working with governments and exporters in Solomon Islands, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu.

The project aims to work with key rural industries and exporters to help them access overseas markets for their products and earn Solomon Islands increased export income.

Hon. Sandakabatu said that the National Coalition for Rural Advancement (NCRA) Government recognized the importance of a diversified export base beyond important commodities of cocoa, copra and palm oil.

"I am pleased that Australia has realized this need through the funding of the PHAMA program, and other AusAID-funded projects such as the Rural Development Program and the Cocoa Livelihoods Improvement Project," Hon. Sandakabatu said.

"The growth and diversification of our agriculture and horticultural exports can only be realized if Solomon Islands can meet import requirements from the importing countries."

Hon. Sandakabatu urged exporters and other stakeholders to play an active role in the implementation of recommendations that the PHAMA Market Access Working Group will put forward.

Acting Australian High Commissioner, Alison Duncan, says supporting agricultural exports made good sense given the extensive agricultural sector in Solomon Islands and its potential to earn foreign income and directly benefit farmers.

Ms Duncan says with 85% of the people living in rural areas, this project aims to increase revenue generation in those areas for the benefit of the rural people and the country.

The PHAMA program will work with the government and the private sector to set Solomon Islands export priorities.

The program will then provide assistance to understand and manage overseas market rules and regulations to help gain and maintain market access.