Termed the “soil health trials,” the research will engage farmers in the Cook Islands, Niue and the Republic of Marshall Islands, with the results expected to benefit the entire region.
Led by Solomon Islander and soil scientist Dr Shane Tutua, the research will develop the scientific evidence base supporting the push for organic farming for sustainable agriculture and climate resilience in the Pacific Islands.
The two-year soil trials are part of the Capacity Building for Resilience in Agriculture Project (CBRAP) coordinated by POETCom, within the Pacific Community (SPC), and funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
“It’s not enough to just say that organic farming is good for the Pacific Islands. We must provide the data to support it, to help inform decision making,” SPC’s project manager of POETCom, Stephen Hazelman said.
“Good soil health is vital for sustainable, climate-resilient food production systems, and organic farming principles such as composting promote it.”
While participating in the research, farmers will be placed into two groups, organic farmers versus conventional (chemical-based) farmers.
The chemical-based farmers are the control group and 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.
Excited about the research, Dr Tutua said reliable results could be obtained as early as six months into the trials, particularly for farmers who have already been carrying out organic farming for many years.
“Some farmers who will be applying organic principles will be doing so for the first time and we might need to wait for up to a year before we can obtain reliable results,” Dr Tutua said.
Farmers will utilise equipment like soil PH meters, soil moisture and infiltro meters to first establish a baseline of their soil health and to monitor it over the two year period.
“In some cases, where equipment cannot be obtained we will improvise and come up with more practical techniques that farmers can apply,” Dr Tutua said.
“Farmers will also be given soil health cards to monitor their soil health over time.
“The trials give them the skills to develop their soil health beyond the life of the project as well as help build their knowledge on techniques for managing their soil well in terms of climate change adaptation.”
Reports from the trials will be shared widely with Pacific Island countries and territories, support discussions around policy development for an ecosystem based approach to sustainable agriculture and help farmers make informed choices about farming systems they use.