Protective Cropping Technologies to Boost Off-season vegetable production
2 June 2015
Pacific community farmers now have a new technology available, in the form of protective housing structures, to meet the demands for off-season production of fresh produce, and take advantage of high prices during this period.
High rainfall, high humidity, and high temperatures are the main constraints to production of high-value vegetable crops in the off-season, which runs from October to March, coinciding with the hot and humid rainy season in the South Pacific.These extremes of weather conditions affect the growth of vegetables as well as providing a favourable environment for pests and diseases to damage crops. Regional farmers from Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Samoa, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu joined Fijian farmers at a meeting in Sigatoka held at Fiji MAF Sigatoka Research Station from 1st to 5th June to learn about protective cropping structures and the options available for smallholder production. The farmers represent national farmer groups under the umbrella farmer organisation PIFON (Pacific Islands Farmer Organisaion Network).
The European Union funded Pacific Agriculture Policy Project (PAPP) implemented by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community provided funds for this technical exchange between protective cropping experts and farmers wishing to grow vegetables in the off-season. SPC PAPP Team Leader, Mr Vili Caniogo said at workshop opening that offseason cropping was a major challenge - one that has existed for many years and it was timely that more exchanges and practices from within and outside the region be facilitated to address this issue. Off season cropping has direct benefits for smallholder farmers, buyers and governments. PIFON technical adviser and workshop coordinator, Mr Kyle Stice said off-season applies primarily to more ‘temperate’ vegetable crops such as lettuce, cabbages, tomato, capsicum, cauliflower, carrots, watermelons, and others.
“Increasingly consumers want to buy vegetables all year round, particularly urban dwellers, and hotels feel they need to serve ‘temperate vegetables’ to satisfy their guests.This must also be done all year round. “Yield and quality of commodities can be increased considerably through the adoption of appropriate low-cost protective cropping systems.” Horticulturists and protective cropping expert, Mr Elio said protective cropping refers to some kind of structure that protects the crop, including the way the crop is grown under the structure. “Protective cropping is especially critical for tropical climate conditions such as excessive rainfall, reduce impacts of strong winds, reduce solar radiation, not greatly increase air and crop temperatures, exclude some pests and minimise some diseases, and allow for vertical trellies of plants. “There are also some challenges of protective cropping relating to high initial investment, farmers need learn new systems of growing plants, and requires regular crop monitoring. Every plant counts. “One structure design cannot meet all needs, and there are no super structures against cyclones.
There are simple village-made structures of bamboo material and thatching, tunnel houses, greenhouses, etc. Farmers can evaluate which design can best provide for what he wants to achieve given available resources and market demands for quality produce.”SPC Integrated Pest Management Officer, Mr Fereti Atu discussed the linked Integrated Crop Management project on sustainable pest management strategies for high-value cash crops funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and implemented by SPC. “Insects account for up to 70% of pest problems in crop production, and under the SPC-ACIAR project, we are evaluating incidence of pests and diseases under protective housing with a controlled environment. Obviously, under these conditions we want to determine what pests are prevalent and recommend management practices.” Mr Anare Caucau, Principal Officer for Fiji Ministry of Agriculture, demonstrated on a tablet device access to over 240 fact sheets on pest and diseases as part of the ACIAR project.The mobile app on Pacific Pests and Pathogens is available free on-line to access the pest fact sheets. Extension officers and farmers can access these fact sheets on mobile devices and can be used in the field for initial pest diagnosis and treatment. Vanuatu farmer, Barry Skature of Farm Support Association said he grows mainly backyard vegetables to supply for family needs and sell any excess produce, and with the new protective housing technology he can increase his production and take advantage of higher prices in the off-season. PNG farmer Maria Linibi representing PNG Women in Agriculture says their farmer group is based at the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI) for the infrastructural support needed.
Most of their farmers are smallholder and are scattered across the range of climatic conditions in PNG. The onus is for members to take advantage of the off-season higher market prices for high-value cash crops.Samoa Farmers Association Ms Lasa Aiono, said the new technology offers a great potential for farmers to take advantage of all year round production of high-value crops. But costs of production and prices of farm implements are very high in Samoa, limiting expanding production. SPC and the European Union are working together through the Pacific Agriculture Policy Project (PAPP) to improve the livelihoods of smallholder famers across 15 Pacific countries through strengthening linkages to markets, assisting to improve information dissemination and helping countries to develop supportive policy frameworks. On the final day, participants visited Nadarivatu highlands region to learn of vegetable production under high elevation conditions.
Emil Adams, PAPP Information and Communications