There are significant challenges ahead if the Pacific Islands are to improve the competitiveness of their agricultural exports, and supply a greater proportion of domestic demand with locally produced food, particularly in urban areas.

Inoke Ratukalou – Director of SPC Land Resources Division – made this point very clear at the beginning of the Pacific Value Chains Conference that began yesterday in Nadi, Fiji.

‘Consumer behaviour in terms of food preferences is changing worldwide and suppliers need to capture these changes in order to market their produce,’ he explained, adding that retail outlets for food products are becoming increasingly modern and sophisticated, which is raising the bar for all participants in this value chain.

‘The consumers opinion is paramount, and processors and retailers are responding to consumer demands for more information and guarantees about the products they buy, and the actors that produce them, by requiring all their suppliers to meet a number of new, minimum conditions.

‘This poses a significant challenge to the traditional Pacific farmer – who is small in size, with little by way of modern equipment and other farmer inputs, and poor access to the bank credit required to secure them. As a result, the Pacific is in danger of missing out on the horticultural export revolution that farmers in other regions are taking advantage of – supplying food products to wealthy consumers overseas.

‘What the value chains methodology helps us to understand is that we have to strengthen our relationships with other actors in the agriculture sector in order to build the levels of trust required to be successful.

‘I hope that, through this Pacific value chains conference, we can contribute to this process of relationship building, and greater understanding,’ Ratukalou said.

Mr Andrew Shepherd of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) provided a brief background to the reasons CTA was supporting the workshop.

He noted that donors, regional organisations and governments were doing much good work in the field of agribusiness and value chains, but that there was little sharing of the results of this work.

For example, the findings of studies in one country that may be relevant to others were rarely shared. Training materials were printed and then forgotten about when a project ended. He quoted Mr Vili Fuavao, outgoing Sub-Regional Coordinator for FAO, to the effect that the region was not very good at learning from its failures because information was not shared.

‘For this reason, CTA is supporting SPC to develop a website that will enable all information related to agribusiness and value chains in the region to be shared.

‘It will not just be a repository of documents, but a dynamic site that will enable people to share ideas and seek solutions to problems,’ he added.

Mr Shepherd also highlighted the fact that CTA and SPC were working together to develop training materials to help governments, businesses and farmer organisations to make Pacific value chains more efficient. CTA was also hoping to work with regional universities to develop courses in agribusiness.