The Pacific is unique compared to other regions of the world. It is defined by large expanses of ocean. Over five times the size of Europe, with scattered and isolated areas of land of varying size, the so called 'tyranny of distance' has presented considerable complexities and challenges for information dissemination. At the same time, sustainable agricultural systems in the Pacific are coming under increasing pressure due to population growth and other factors. In the high volcanic islands farmers are moving away from shifting cultivation, where soil fertility was maintained and erosion controlled, to cropping plots of land more frequently. This increase in the intensity of land use is resulting in deforestation, soil erosion and declining yields. High population growth rates, unfavourable age structures and increasing urbanisation on islands with limited land and water availability are a reality particularly the low-lying atolls. This has serious implications for these fragile island ecosystems. Further, the lack of trained local researchers and extension officers with skills in sustainable farming systems and combined with the poor access to ICTs, and information in general, has resulted in promotion of inappropriate technology and further degradation of the natural resource base. The lack of involvement of rural communities in the development process compounded by weak NARES and poor linkages between farmers, NARES, NGOs and information providers have all contributed to the problem. Rural communities have been the losers and opportunities to enhance their ability to cope in such vulnerable contexts have been squandered.
At the early consultation and needs assessment stage of the project a broad range of ICT-related constraints were identified in the region and participating countries. Overall there existed weak extension services, NGOs and farmer group's extension activities. This resulted largely from poor institutional and individual capacity in the production and utilisation of information materials resulting in production of inappropriate information and promotional materials, resulting in few, badly designed and produced extension communications materials. Information was not being translated into a format that is understood by local communities. And although much information is freely available, it was largely irrelevant material. Access to necessary ICT equipment and software was poor, as well as the necessary training. There was limited collaboration and networking between NGOs and NARES in the same country despite targeting the same audience. Surprisingly, there was limited collaboration between Information Units and research and extension staff within the same Ministry. Added to this, there was poor collaboration and networking between regional and international information providers operating in this environment. In effect, this meant in most countries there was no network in place to disseminate agriculture information to those who most needed it.
Recognising these shortcomings, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) together with NARES, NGOs and other regional stakeholders from 16 countries collaborated in the development of an initiative to address many of the issues constraining sustainable agriculture and rural livelihoods in the region. The outcome of these consultations was the Development of Sustainable Agriculture in the Pacific (DSAP) project, funded by the European Union. DSAP aims to increase sustainable agricultural production of farm families in countries covering Melanesia, Polynesia and Micronesia. Importantly, DSAP is as much about process as product, and employs participatory approaches with farmers and rural communities to identify and validate appropriate technologies to solve agricultural problems.
As part of this strategy, and in order to scale-up and disseminate these technologies, DSAP aims to strengthen national capabilities in the production and use of a variety of extension-related ICTs including traditional media such as television, radio, posters, handbooks, pamphlets and video. To support these activities DSAP focuses on intensive training and capacity enhancement and encourages linking countries with relevant information providers at a national, regional and international level. Some indicative project activities to help achieve this include:
Some DSAP achievements to date include:
The above activities and outcomes do not say much about networking and partnerships, many of which have arisen as a result of better linkages and collaboration between NARES and NGOs. This has strengthened their links and networks to community groups, farmer groups, womens groups and youth groups. Improved linkages now exist between diverse information providers including local agricultural offices, health offices, schools and NGOs. The project has also helped bring about an improved level of collaboration between regional and international information providers including the University of the South Pacific, FAO, SPC and CTA. One such initiative, involving CTA and DSAP, has been the First Voice International Multimedia Service (FVI-MMS), which enables agricultural workers in the Pacific to access important information on agriculture, and related topics, by simply connecting a PC or laptop to a satellite receiver. Further measures are underway to strengthen and broaden such collaborations further. This will be important in supporting and sustaining the ICT capacity-building outcomes that DSAP has achieved to date.
Copyright for articles published in this journal is retained by the authors, with first publication rights granted to the journal. By virtue of their appearance in this open access journal, articles are free to use, with proper attribution, in educational and other non-commercial settings. Original article at: http://ijedict.dec.uwi.edu//viewarticle.php?id=395&layout=html