In a move to help boost food security as the Pacific recovers from COVID-19, The Pacific Community’s (SPC) Land Resources Division (LRD) has established two rapid response projects: The Pacific Regional Integrated Food and Nutrition Security Initiative to COVID-19 (PRISCO19) and the Micronesia COVID-19 Response (MICCO19). PRISCO19 and MICCO19 are primarily funded by the European Union. MICCO19 is also funded by the US government with the support of the American people.
As the anniversary of the Coronavirus pandemic passes in March 2021, food security in the region continues to deteriorate. Even the Pacific region’s small, isolated island states and territories, sprawled across the largest body of water on Earth, have suffered from the effects of COVID-19. The disease has disrupted already limited access to essential services such as health and has struck at the heart of the region’s economy in the tourism and agriculture sectors. The unique context of the region poses additional challenges as the majority of our small island developing states stand directly at the frontlines of climate change. Pacific peoples must surmount extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones while striving to conserve their cultural identity as they negotiate the ever-changing globalisation arena. The devastation caused by the pandemic, exacerbated by natural disasters, has left farmers and communities vulnerable. Maintaining food production in current conditions is costly, and for many, not possible without support.
SPC LRD has quickly engaged with key partners, governments, relevant stakeholders, farmers and communities to establish MICCO19 and PRISCO19 to reduce the immediate impacts of the pandemic on food security. PRISCO19 is focused on 10 Pacific countries (Cook Islands, Kiribati, Nauru, Niue, PNG, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu), and to a lesser extent Fiji and Vanuatu. Similarly, MICCO19 will be implemented in the Northern Pacific (Republic of Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Palau) with an additional focus on strengthening good governance.
MICCO19 and PRISCO19 will prioritise sustainable production improvement and value-adding, in addition to strengthening biosecurity services (services that minimise risks of exotic pests and diseases being introduced) in the context of COVID-19.
The strict COVID-19 lockdowns in the Pacific have led to growing concerns about food shortages. Many households have turned to backyard gardening to be more self-sufficient. PRISCO19 and MICCO19 will promote backyard gardening as an immediate and effective approach to household food security and nutrition. Training packages and knowledge products (awareness material, handouts, etc) are provided to establish and maintain integrated backyard gardens, including crops and livestock. This includes guidelines on pest and disease management, soil health, good agricultural practices and models for integrated backyard gardening targeted at urban and other populated areas that include short-term vegetables, crops and small livestock. The projects also aim to encourage more families and communities to grow crops and see potential in unused lands to be utilised for farmland.
Home backyard gardens are common in the Pacific but despite their many benefits have been decreasing due to urbanisation. PRISCO19 and MICCO19 will help revitalise this practice during the pandemic and beyond through awareness-raising and promoting local foods to improve overall nutrition and food security.
In addition to backyard gardening, PRISCO19 and MICCO19 are focused on improving livestock production systems. COVID-19 trained a harsh spotlight on the livestock industry after its speculated origins erupted in the wet markets of China and spread across the world. Meat consumption rapidly declined as export pathways were restricted and the stigma around animal meat increased. In the Pacific, livestock is an important cultural element as is evident by its slaughter for feasts at traditional social events. However, the industry faces many challenges in integrating traditional and modern aspects of livestock management to sustain production and productivity to meet food and nutrition security. The industry is also burdened by the high cost of feed and maintenance in a region that already has limited access to infrastructure to support industry needs. This is exacerbated by the growing threat from both exotic and zoonotic diseases that demand a greater emphasis on animal health and welfare.
Through PRISCO19 and MICCO19, support is provided through the supply of improved livestock breeds and the establishment of poultry and piggery units. Veterinary lab consumables, tools and equipment will also be procured to support disease surveillance and the development of awareness and training materials on livestock husbandry practices and waste management.