Pacific Organic & Ethical Trade Community


Posted On: June 8, 2016

Young farmers in Niue, Cook Islands and the Republic of Marshall Islands will be involved in on-farm research comparing organic and conventional farming in relation to soil health and climate resilience in the Pacific Islands region. Research trials are to start in June as components of the Capacity Building for Resilience in Agriculture Project, which is coordinated by POETCom and funded by IFAD.

The research trials and farmer field schools involving young farmers will assess the extent to which different agricultural practices increase the climate resilience of the crops selected for development. Termed the ‘climate resilience trials’, the research, led by organic systems consultant, Dr Shane Tutua from Solomon Islands, will assist in assessing organic farming as a tool for sustainable agriculture and climate resilience in the Pacific.

In March, representatives of POETCom’s focal points in Niue, Cook Islands and Marshal Islands met with project officials in Nadi, Fiji, to select trial designs for the participating countries.
Dr Tutua has developed a concept that links soil-resilience characteristics, measurable indicators, and assessment methods with corresponding monitoring instruments.

‘Eleven types of equipment have been purchased to monitor soil resilience under appropriate trial designs for each country. The equipment includes pH meters, plant sap extractors, infiltrometers and Solvita soil respiration kits,’ said project manager Stephen Hazelman.

Farmers will be placed into two groups, organic farmers and conventional (chemical using) farmers. The conventional farmers are the control group and they will continue farming as usual with chemical inputs. The second group will implement organic farming principles, such as composting over a period of one to two years.

‘We are going to compare the performance of the organic and conventional systems against a set of soil health criteria,’ said Dr Tutua. ‘These criteria will be incorporated into the soil health report cards.’

‘We want to see if the organic farming practices and technologies result in a soil system that meets the level of soil health that is ideal or that can be potentially more resilient.’ ‘The conventional system is our control in the trial. Comparing organic and conventional methods is, I think, a secondary objective because one system might be better than the other according to our data but the better one might still not provide ideal soil health status.’

‘Nonetheless, when we evaluate the soil health status of each farming system, we may find that one system works better than the other.’ ‘For conventional farmers, the data we gather could also help them improve their soils and that needs to be emphasised to them.’

Results will be assessed at the end of the two-year trials.

‘Given that most organic and conventional farms in the trials would have been operating for years, I am sure there will be some observable differences between the two systems already.’

Dr Tutua believes the research trials ‘are pioneering for organics in the Pacific’. ‘We are trying to assess the strength of an organic farming system through proper application of organic farming practices, and through proper scientific methodology.’ ‘Other earlier studies might want to disprove that it is a good system.

‘Yet we want to prove that it is a good system so we will faithfully and thoroughly apply the necessary practices.’

Meanwhile, along with soil trials and farmer field schools, the IFAD project will work with farmers to establish organic value chains linking farmers to markets, such as local tourism and hospitality providers.

POETCom will partner with three focal points in implementing the IFAD project. They are the Niue Organic Farmers Association (NIOFA), Marshall Islands Organic Farmer Association (MIOFA) and the Titikaveka Growers Association of Cook Islands.

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