Suva, Fiji: Pacific Islanders depend on forests and trees for food security, fuel, timber, and for their traditional medicines.
Forests and trees are also an integral part of islands cultural activities; they are of importance in improving soil fertility, water quality and supply, and environmental protection.
But according to Mr. Sairusi Bulai, Forestry Team Coordinator for the Land Resource Division of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the region’s forests are under threat.
[Processing newly collected dilo seeds.(Photo courtesy SPC Land Resources Division]
“Continual deforestation and forest degradation primarily resulting from unsustainable practises, coupled with extreme climate events, including climate change, have highlighted an urgency for Pacific Island countries and territories to better conserve, manage and use their forest and tree genetic resources.”
To address the threat, the Pacific is Island countries and territories agreed on a regional action plan for the conservation, and management and sustainable utilisation of forest and tree genetic resources in the Pacific.
The action plan which was endorsed by the Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry Meeting in Apia, Samoa, in 2008, has the establishment of a regional tree seed centre to facilitate germplasm exchange and sharing as one of the plan’s core strategies for the achievement of its goals. Mr. Bulai said that the purpose of the establishment of the Pacific Island Tree Seed Centre is to support countries in maintaining and enhancing diversity of their forest and tree resources by facilitating the efficient and safe exchange and sharing of seeds of priority tree species within the 22 SPC island countries and territories- all partners in the Centre.
[Collecting sandalwood seeds in Vanuatu. (Photo courtesy SPC Land Resources Division]
The priority species include timber, fruit/nut trees, and shrub species as well as those trees resistant to cyclones, their contribution to coastal protection and their ability to adapt to atoll conditions.
An important aspect of the sharing of seeds will be the application of a Material transfer agreement (MTA) between the supplying country and the Centre to ensure that the interests of both parties are protected.
[Collecting canarium seeds in the Solomon Islands. (Photo courtesy SPC Land Resources Division]
“Work on this is on-going, and the target is to have the MTA’s for Fiji, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, three of the main seed sources, endorsed before the end of the year.”
The Centre is the regional focal point for the coordination and implementation of priority seed collection, treatment, storage, distribution, research and training. Protocols for the collection, processing, treatment and storage for seeds of individual species will be developed in line with internationally accepted best practice.
“An integral part of our work will be capacity building. We need to make sure that those who send us seeds and those who receive them are properly trained with the thorough knowledge and skill on seed collection, treatment and storage including seedling production in line with the agreed protocols,” said Mr. Bulai
The success of these activities depends on regional cooperation among member countries to share their genetic resources with other member countries. This approach has been well proven for many crops in the Pacific and should work similarly for trees.
The Centre, located in Suva, Fiji, is being established in partnership with international and regional development partners. The EU, through the project Facilitating Agricultural Commodity Trade (FACT), is funding a tree seed technician for the Centre and the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is providing most of the equipment, tools and materials needed for its operation while the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) of Australia is providing assistance on building the capacity of SPC and member countries and territories staff on tree seed technology.