Securing soils knowledge for the Pacific
Since the 1950s New Zealand soil scientists from DSIR Soil Bureau, and more recently from Landcare Research, have been visiting Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) undertaking soil surveys and capacity-building to help agriculture and primary sector agencies improve soils knowledge and land-management practices. The breadth and depth of that work has been summarized in Leslie (2010) and been largely funded via New Zealand Aid.
Soil mapping in the Pacific has highlighted some significant challenges. In particular, populations are small, providing a limited pool from which to draw expertise, and many of the most able emigrate or are attracted to careers in international agencies. Institutional strengthening is, therefore, often short-lived and needs to be rebuilt before new projects can leverage past development work. As financial resources are also very limited, momentum gained during projects is often short-lived.
While valuable soils knowledge has been accumulated, it is clear that in-country capacity to use and understand that information is limited. Much of this soils data is still relevant but it is generally under-utilized and as a result land management decisions are not always as well informed as they should be.
Over the past 10–15 years, as Landcare Research has been developing its S-map Online and related web-based systems, we have also been promoting the concept of an on-line Pacific Soils Portal (PSP) through the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Land Resources Division (SPC-LRD). The PSP aims to overcome the problems of retaining soils knowledge by centralising the existing knowledge base and improving its availability and relevance to land users through a simple point-and-click interface. Such an interface would enable individual users to link to interpretive knowledge of soils, their properties, and their suitability for agricultural uses for the location of interest. The Heads of Government Departments from 23 PICTs recognised the PSP as a good idea, subject to finding appropriate development funding.
The Global Financial Crisis halted progress until the establishment of the Pacific Soil Partnership in 2014. The Pacific Soil Partnership united New Zealand, Australia, and 15 PICTs as a regional node of the United Nations Global Soil Partnership. Meetings of the Pacific Soil Partnership held in 2014, 2015, and 2016 have provided a vehicle for reinvigorating the PSP concept within a larger 3-year project “Soil management for resilient agriculture in Pacific Islands”. In the last 3 months, the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) has funded both a scoping study and preparation of a “phase 1” project proposal. This phase 1 proposal has very recently been reviewed and passed on to phase 2 of the ACIAR funding process, requiring development into a full project proposal.
Leslie D 2010. Record of significant soil and land resources research in the South West Pacific, Manaaki Whenua Press, http://doi.org/10.7931/DL1KS3 .
JAMES BARRINGER – LANDCARE RESEARCH