In another milestone achievement during the 39th Session of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) Council held in Rome, Fiji through the Minister for Agriculture, Rural & Maritime Development & National Disaster Management, Hon. Inia B. Seruiratu has been selected to be among the founding members of Goodwill Ambassadors for the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture.
Hon. Seruiratu as a Goodwill Ambassador was chosen among high profile public personalities such as eminent Scientists, Diplomats and Agriculture Ministers into this new role which was warmly accepted and endorsed by the Prime Minister, Hon. Josaia V. Bainimarama who is the Head of the Fiji delegation in this Council meeting.
The Circle of Goodwill Ambassadors was initiated by the High Level Taskforce of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture at its second working session on 24 September 2014 held in New York on the margins of the 69th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations.
The task and role of Goodwill Ambassadors is to inspire broad, positive and committed action in support of the Treaty’s implementation and the resourcing of its Benefit-sharing Fund (BSF) as well as to generate public awareness about the Treaty’s pivotal role in agricultural, food biodiversity issues.
This is a milestone achievement for Fiji and the Small Island States within the South West Pacific Region. Fiji acceded the Treaty in July 2008, and in addition to this; Fiji has also ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1993 and recently the Nagoya Protocol in 2013 that facilitates the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) mechanism of the CBD. Fiji is the only country in the Pacific that has ratified all these three Treaties and Convention.
The CBD is managed by the Department of Environment, while the Treaty is managed by the Ministry of Agriculture.
The International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA) is an international legal agreement to facilitate access to Plant Genetic Resources for Food & Agriculture (PGRFA), that countries largely depend on to sustain agriculture, food, nutrition and environmental security.
The objective of the Treaty is conservation and sustainable use of plant genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA) and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising out of their use, in harmony with the Convention on Biological Diversity, for sustainable agriculture and food security. It was negotiated within the FAO & Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture framework. Adopted in November 2001 and came into force on 29 June 2004.
Few countries in the Pacific have ratified the International Treaty, these includes Samoa, Cook Islands, Palau, Kiribati and Fiji. Fiji acceded the Treaty in July 2008, and in addition to this; Fiji has also ratified the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in 1993 and recently the Nagoya Protocol in 2013 that facilitates the Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) mechanism of the CBD. Fiji is the only country in the Pacific that has ratified all these three Treaties and Convention. The CBD is managed by the Department of Environment, while the Treaty is managed by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Importance of the Treaty to Fiji
Exchange of germplasm has been on – going before the Treaty came into force and we have been using and commercializing most of these plant varieties that were originated from abroad e.g. sugar cane, some dalo varieties, cassava, rice, sweet potatoes, recently potatoes, etc.
The Treaty is important in addressing neglecting issues in Fiji on the important of germplasm conservation and their sustainable use in supporting the development of the agriculture sector in the country. These are important resources where future researchers, breeders and users of germplasm can choose from in terms of new breeding programs, value addition, trade, climate change adaptations and other potential uses of germplasm. A good example is the Taro Breeding Project for Taro Leaf Blight currently in place in Fiji.
As Fiji faces the global issues of climate change, addressing food security and poverty, germplasm are important materials where we can choose from and utilize for these purposes. Traditional varieties and their wild relatives are very important in food security and climate change adaptations e.g. yams and its wild relatives (Tivoli), traditional dalo varieties that tolerates water logging, traditional vegetables, etc.
The Treaty will benefit Fiji in accessing high yielding, resilient crop varieties from abroad through it mechanisms using the Multilateral Lateral System (MLS). These varieties will broaden the genetic base and diversity of our crops varieties as most of our local varieties and even varieties of crops in the Pacific have a narrow gene pool (very closely related and similar). These makes Pacific crops very susceptible to new incursion of pest and diseases, drought, heat stress, salinity, water logging to name a few. They can also be used to develop new traits for Fiji’s crops and will develop a resilient agricultural system.
The commissioning of the new Tissue Culture Laboratory in 2014 is another milestone for Fiji in addressing the sustainable conservation and use of plant genetic resources in Fiji; these also facilitate the multiplication of clean planting materials for farmers.
Fiji has benefited from the PGRFA Funded Projects in the following areas:
• Build capacity in areas of Plant Breeding and Plant Variety Selection for adapting to Climate Change and Food Security. This is due to the lack of plant breeders in the Pacific including Fiji.
• Realize the importance of traditional varieties and wild relatives in terms on building resilience in the agricultural systems through broadening genetic base of our crops.
• Mostly Fiji and Pacific staple food crops have very narrow gene pool and are all susceptible to pest and disease outbreaks, climate change effects like drought, salinity, etc.
• Build capacity on the agricultural system to be more resilience to the effect of climate on food security, food production and people’s livelihood due to the vulnerability of our food production system in Fiji.
• Projects will explore the utilization of our genetic diversities of crops for potential use. Also to realize the importance of conserving Fiji crop genetic resources through various means of germ plasms either in field gene bank, cool storage facilities, cryopreservation, nurseries, tissue culture and on – farm conservation by farmers.