Seeds and climate change

At the 23rd Conference of the Parties of UNFCCC (where Fiji played a central role), Parties adopted the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture. This landmark agreement recognized ‘the fundamental importance of agriculture in responding to climate change’, as FAO puts it in a publication released this Spring.

What is true globally is also true for the Pacific and, in 2017, speaking at the Pacific Islands Forum, regional leaders reaffirmed the need to expand and strengthen collective action for regional security inclusive of human security, humanitarian aid, environmental security, and resilience in the face of disasters and climate change.

The Pacific Community kick-started the Pacific Seed for Life (PS4L) initiative to bring together governments, international research organisations, the private sector, communities,  and key farmer stakeholders to strengthen seed systems in the Pacific.

Why focus on seeds?

Seeds are the basic – and most critical – input for a sustainable production in agriculture. A sustainable seed system ensures farmers have timely access to affordable quality seeds and planting materials of the most suitable crops. The development of viable and sustainable seed systems, allowing access to a wide range of varieties, is critical: it is what allows countries and communities to sustain their livelihoods and ensure swift and sustainable post-disaster recovery. Countries in the region therefore prioritised seed security as a sector for climate action.

SPC supports the initiative through its Innovation Fund. SPC’s strategy also relies on a cornerstone, the Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees (CePACT), established with SPC’s Land Resources Division. CePACT is the only regional gene bank in the region and contributes to a sustainable conservation and use of genetic plant resources for food and nutrition security. It is also a key source of crop diversity. It aims at improving resilience to climate change, pests, and diseases.

Seeds for Life aims at empowering Pacific Islands to develop resilient food production systems and, ultimately, achieve food security. The project will allow governments to better develop and operationalise seed systems, thereby giving researchers, extension agents, and farmers better access to skills and knowledge – and giving communities access to crop varieties to achieve these goals.

Activities and target countries

The work of the PS4L project is demand-driven: varieties and technologies are delivered to small-scale farmers for further selection and bulking. It also capitalises on formal and informal farmers’ organisations so the impact goes beyond isolated interventions or projects. It is expected that the work on the ground will sustain policy formulation.

The firs set of target countries include Tonga and Vanuatu, however new countries will be incorporated as the program moves ahead . Country selection is based on demonstrated interest and ownership in seed development; its spread makes it scalable to the three subregions. In Tonga, the project will build on the Hango Seed Centre, supported by SPC/EU PAPP. In Vanuatu, the project will collaborate with MALFFB, VARTC, VAC, VCAP and farm support agencies also promoting seed development. Fiji will serve as a nexus through national seed initiatives such as the Sigatoka open pollinated (OP) seed centre and programmes in varietal breeding and nurseries.

The Land Resources Division of SPC will take the lead in the project oversight and coordination. PS4L’s direct beneficiaries include researchers, extension agents, farmers’ organisations and students from the participating tertiary institutions in the three countries, who, in turn, will be mobilised, trained and better equipped to support seed development in the region. Indirect beneficiaries are an estimated 250,000 and include PAPGREN members (22 PICTs) and PIRAS (>1,500 members). They will benefit from the project through information sharing on the Pacific Agriculture Information System (PAIS) knowledge platform. Outcomes include increased awareness and capacity on seed systems development, strengthened enabling policies for effective seed systems, and enhanced regional and national seed networks.

To ensure sustainability of this initiative and mobilisation of additional resources, the project will consolidate lessons learnt to inform the development of a regional seed roadmap and leverage these lessons to nurture broader stakeholder support to seed systems development in the region. This will also support regional cooperation and the development of national seed policies to leverage government support for national seed development initiatives.

Case studies of good practices and knowledge products will be shared through various regional networks, including PIRAS and PAPGREN. By so doing, collective actions will ensure a reinvigorated long term approach for regional integration on seed security.