Previous attempts to intensify production of crops in the Pacific have not included adequate research and development (R&D).

These comments were made by Dr Mike Furlong of University of the Queensland (UQ) at a workshop, organised by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), that aims to help Pacific Island countries and territories strengthen their production of valuable crops by better managing pests and diseases.

The workshop, which is tied to the launch of a new project with the same goal, is presently taking place at Sigatoka Research Station in Fiji. It is funded by Australian Center in International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) in collaboration with SPC, UQ and The World Vegetable Centre (AVRDC).

According to Dr Furlong, important areas that have been overlooked include identification of well-adapted varieties, development of locally relevant sustainable production technologies and serious threats to health and the environment (inappropriate use of hazardous pesticides, improper use of other inputs and degradation of the natural resource base).

Therefore, he said, a focus of the new project will be building regional and national R&D capacity for SPC and national partners and establishing a framework for a longer-term programme to begin problem-solving research focused on vegetable production.

Meanwhile, during official opening of the workshop, Inoke Ratukalou, Acting Director of SPC's Land Resources Division said, SPC has been a partner in several of the integrated pest management (IPM) projects that constitute the platform on which the new project is based. These include the Brassica IPM project in Fiji and Samoa, the squash Integrated Pest and Disease Management (IPDM) in Tonga, and the Improved Plant Protection in Solomon Islands (IPPSI) project.

Another area of SPC assistance to region in relation to the new project is the introduction and exchange of crop genetic resources and information through its Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePaCT).

Mr Ratukalou also acknowledged the support of regional participants and encouraged them to continue their support through the new project. He emphasised the need to continue R&D to improve crop production and diversification.

'Your gathering itself marks another effort that SPC is taking in the region, particularly in Fiji, Kiribati, Samoa, Solomon Island and Tonga, to manage and especially adapt to the impacts of pests and diseases,'
The workshop, which ends on Friday, 24 February, will also entail development of coordination and information-support systems for intensified horticulture.

The five day workshop will also be rotated to other project countries during the course of the project.