The Pacific Horticulture and Agricultural Market Access Program in Fiji, better known as PHAMA turned a year old at the end of 2012 and what a year it's been.
With 7 projects completed and 9 new projects identified, the program hit the ground running and hasn't stopped.
PHAMA is an AusAID-funded initiative designed to provide practical and targeted assistance to help Pacific Island Countries manage the regulatory aspects associated with exporting agriculture products.
This encompasses gaining access for new products into new markets, as well as helping to manage issues associated with maintaining existing trade.
PHAMA is making an impact in Fiji by improving the potential of Taro or Dalo exports.
Fresh taro has long been Fiji's most valuable horticultural export crop, with sales averaging 10,000 tons per year, worth over $24 million. Historically, exports to Australia and NZ, Fiji's two major markets, have been plagued with inter-related quality problems including damage to taro corms, poor cleaning and pest infestation.
This has resulted in the frequent need for fumigation and the occasional destruction of export consignments, all of which mean additional cost for exporters, reduced shelf-life and reduced prices.
Recognising this as one of PHAMA's current focus areas in Fiji is to help clean up the export pathway for taro.
In 2012, PHAMA worked with the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji, Department of Agriculture, and industry to help improve export quality and hence reduce quarantine issues.
These efforts have centred on the development of export quality standards and guidelines and promotion of these to growers, pack-house operators, exporters, and quarantine/ extension staff.
Guidelines have now been finalised with additional training scheduled over the next 6 months.
This work has been carried out in close coordination with another project funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which aims to reduce damage to corms through adoption of improved packaging and handling procedures.
According to PHAMA's team leader, Richard Holloway, the results are beginning to show. "Evidence is emerging of a marked reduction in pest intercepts, and improved quality at the Australian and New Zealand borders. For example, in June New Zealand's Ministry of Primary Industry reported an unprecedented 'clean' result following a 600 - sample inspection.
"Australia's Department of Forestry and Fisheries also commented on a marked improvement", he said.
Another project in Fiji that PHAMA has been leading the way in, is improving the pineapple exports to New Zealand.
Fiji grows great pineapples while New Zealand can't grow them at all, making a perfect recipe for trade.
Even better, New Zealand has long had policy in place allowing the importation of pineapples from Fiji.
However, the trade has been slow to develop due to the lack of clarity around the specific import conditions imposed by New Zealand's Ministry of Primary Industry, and lack of understanding at the Fiji end on how best to meet these conditions.
To this end, PHAMA recently worked with the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji, Ministry of Agriculture and growers to seek clarification from New Zealand's Ministry of Primary Industry concerning import conditions relating to physiological maturity and post-harvest handling.
This has resulted in a general simplification of conditions and has rekindled interest from Fijian producers and exporters in resuming exports. Over the last 6 months, five trial airfreight consignments have been sent out by Turners and Growers (Fiji) to test the export pathway and market reaction with generally favourable results.
Holloway says: "The medium term objective is to increase exports to a container a month by sea freight.
Importantly, this trade would provide a production alternative for generally poorer farmers on marginal sugar cane land.
"PHAMA will continue to provide assistance as required to help growers understand and comply with New Zealand's import conditions."