Identifying past and overcoming current barriers
Adoption and scaling of new soil knowledge and technology in the Pacific has been an ongoing challenge. Research has suggested that this can be attributed to ignorance. Improved participatory multi-stakeholder approaches could change this situation.
This research developed a better understanding of the stakeholders in the soil management knowledge system, and explored the barriers, incentives and opportunities for improving soil nutrient management by:
- Identifying barriers, incentives and opportunities within the agriculture innovation system that affect the diffusion and adoption of knowledge and technology in taro farming systems in the Pacific.
- Engaging key stakeholders at the country level in a discussion about options for interventions to overcome barriers to adoption identified in the diagnostic study.
- Engaging with key stakeholders at the regional level in a discussion about options for interventions to overcome barriers to adoption identified in the diagnostic study about the policy.
A rapid assessment of the soil knowledge and information systems in Fiji and Tonga highlighted the following three key barriers to improving soil management:
- Limited awareness across numerous system actors (e.g. farmers, extension, policy agribusiness etc.) of the value of soil health for sustainable production.
- Multiple sources of knowledge of soil health and sustainable soil management practices (both traditional and scientific).
- A fragmented agricultural knowledge ecosystem with pockets of well-connected actors that facilitates knowledge transfer and adoption.
Building on the findings from the rapid assessment of Fiji and Tonga’s soil knowledge and information systems, the project team developed a series of experiments that piloted different approaches aimed at enhancing knowledge both on an individual and systems level. While the primary focus countries for this research were Fiji and Tonga (the project’s two main sites), the lessons and insights from these activities can be applied and adapted to other Pacific Island Countries and Territories.
These pilots included:
- Traditional technical knowledge transfer via face-to-face trainings and workshops.
More than 775 farmers, extension officers, youth, researchers, agriculture students, and people from religious groups, non-government organisations and agribusiness participated in face-to-face training activities delivered by the project in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati, and Tuvalu. Over 70% of these participants were farmers or youth. The subjects of the training included knowledge transfer on 1) soil health including testing and analysing soil nutrients, 2) sustainable fertiliser management, 3) pests and diseases, 4) importance of soil management and crop health and potential production impacts, and 5) irrigation. Training reports from all countries included participants describing an increase in knowledge and skills in soil management.
- Leveraging online platforms to share key findings from the project.
The rapid assessment identified online knowledge sharing platforms as an emerging trend. This is no surprise, given the continual improvements in internet connectivity and access to mobile phones across the Pacific Island Countries and Territories. In response to this trend the knowledge broker in Tonga brokered connections with three key stakeholders (a non-government organisation, agribusiness and the government) to include key project results and current soil health and management information on their platforms. These platforms are used by farmers, agricultural advisors, research scientists and others.
- Connecting with national programs and policies aimed at supporting improved agriculture policies and practices to share soil health and sustainable management knowledge.
The Fijian Government created a soil health card. Our project partners at the Fijian Agriculture Chemistry Laboratory at the Ministry of Agriculture are playing a key role supporting this initiative with tailored soil sampling, analysis, and interpretation for individual farmers. As the initiative is rolled out across Fiji, a more comprehensive picture of Fiji’s soil health is expected to emerge. This knowledge will then be used to provide local extension and agricultural advisory in different areas with context relevant soil management knowledge for transferring to farmers and other relevant actors.
- Leveraging existing regional platforms aimed at supporting improved agriculture policies and practices to share soil health and sustainable management knowledge.
The project invested in building relationships with other development and government led sustainable agriculture initiatives to help strengthen connections between key sources of knowledge for farmers and reduce the fragmentation issue identified in the rapid assessment. The result of these efforts included opportunities to increase awareness on the current soil health challenges in regions.
- Building cohesion by catalysing national workshops that include actors from across the value chain to discuss current and emerging soil health issues impacting agricultural production.
In Tonga, the project experimented with engaging a knowledge broker to build connections with key actors across the system including policy, extension, research, agribusiness, non-government organisations and farmers. The knowledge broker had both soil expertise and strong connections across the Tongan Agriculture sector. Their role was to engage with key stakeholders and catalyse discussions around challenges and opportunities for improving soil health and management practices. Namely this included facilitating three National workshops at Tonga Tapu, Haápai, and Éua to discuss the implications and potential response to declining soil fertility at both the farm and national level. Specifically, the discussions focused on declining soil carbon stocks and better nutrient management. Changing fertiliser practices was identified as a key priority at the end of the workshop. It was agreed that stakeholders from the workshop would work together to develop a policy brief or voluntary guidelines for sustainable fertiliser management to help address the declining soil fertility challenge facing Tonga’s agriculture sector.
- Codifying good practice to support the creation of a community of local soil management experts in the region.
CSIRO, the Pacific Community and University of the South Pacific collaborated to create two manuals on soil sampling and soil analysis and interpretation. These manuals will support the creation of a network of local Soil Doctors in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Kiribati, and Tuvalu. The Soil Doctors will use the manuals to provide tailored advice to farmers that considers their unique soil conditions through sampling, analysis, and interpretation.
Key insights and lessons learnt
Knowledge transfer and adoption in the Pacific has its own unique dynamics. These pilot experiments aimed to leverage and build synergies with the existing dynamics of the system to enhance soil knowledge and adoption of improved soil management practices and policies. The following key insights and lessons learnt have been identified:
- There is no one approach to agricultural extension and advisory services in the pacific – Knowledge transfer approaches need to be context appropriate.
- Look for opportunities to build on existing connections and relationships between the different actors in the knowledge system to improve adoption.
- Insights from pilot implementation can be used to inform implementation of the Pacific Islands Extension Strategy, which has underpinning principles of strengthening networks and partnerships.