Fiji soil under threat; Appropriate technological intervention needed: Sovalawa

Women dalo farmers in Taveuni. It has been noted taro production on the island has dropped attributed to deteriorating soil fertility. Picture: FT FILE

WHILE Fiji is blessed with approximately 13 per cent of arable land, the Ministry of Agriculture has warned that that is shrinking and soils were under threat.
Acting Deputy Secretary Agriculture Development Jone Sovalawa made this comment as he noted in the same breath that most of Fiji’s productive lands were under threat.
In his address, while officially opening the week-long training for research and extension officers on the use of Mid Infrared (MIR) spectroscopy for soil analysis at the Koronivia Research Station this week, Mr Sovalawa cited Taveuni on Vanua Levu, known as the Garden Island of Fiji, as an example.
“Before, Taveuni used to export 80 per cent of the total volume of Fiji’s taro worth almost $22million and the reject rate is almost 40 per cent now,’’ Mr Sovalawa said.
He said the chemical properties of soil such as soil pH, available phosphorus, Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC), nitrogen and carbon levels were gradually declining.
He said the main causes of land degradation were deforestation, overgrazing, poor agricultural practices such as burning and mechanisation, industrialisation and urbanisation.
He said soil was one of the most fundamental resources that people relied on for survival, and that was under threat in Fiji.
But he said Fiji’s soils were now under threat.
“It is our duty to intervene and ensure appropriate technologies are developed to address the soil fertility issues in Fiji. Technologies that are practical, affordable and resilient to mitigate climate change and improve soil health and fertility,’’ said Mr Sovalawa.
“Mid Infrared spectroscopy is a rapid soil analyser which gives instant readings. I believe this is the way forward when it comes to decision making and it is very critical for field officers to receive a quick response from laboratories to be able to make prompt and sound decisions in terms of fertilizer requirements or suitable crops to be planted,” he was quoted saying in a Government statement.
The Ministry of Agriculture in collaboration with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) is conducting the training.
Mr Sovalawa said ACIAR through the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and the Ministry of Agriculture in Fiji has also embarked on a project titled ‘Soil Management in the Pacific Islands: investigation nutrient cycling and development of soils portal’.
This project site will be in Taveuni and will be coordinated by the ministry’s Research Division.
The one week training is part of the project and the participants will be introduced to the latest innovation in the field of soil analysis.

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