For over two decades, Fereti Atumurirava has been an integral part of the regional effort to support long-term food security and sustainability of staple resources as part of the broader ACIAR-supported horticulture projects in the region.
ACIAR has a long-standing relationship with the Pacific since 1982, fostering partnerships and connecting Australian researchers with their counterparts throughout the region, helping reduce poverty and improve food security.
The partnerships include working with multilateral research agencies such as the Pacific Community (SPC) – the region's principal and largest scientific and technical organisation.
ACIAR Regional Manager for the Pacific, Ms Mai Alagcan, explained that the partnership between ACIAR and SPC is built over 30 years of collaboration between the two agencies and strengthens a shared strategic vision for sustainable agriculture, forestry and fisheries development throughout the Pacific.
‘Agricultural research is an international enterprise that is founded on strong partnerships. At the heart of these partnerships are the relationships we have built with Pacific leaders,' said Ms Alagcan.
‘Not only do we invest in organisations as partners, but we also invest greatly in the people who lead these projects, working with them to enhance their capacities and work with them on their research as they lead in providing homegrown solutions in the Pacific.’
One example of this investment in people and organisational level is Mr Fereti Atumurirava, Pest and Disease Management Adviser, Land Resources Division, SPC. Mr Atumurirava is also a proud John Allwright Fellowship alumnus.
From humble beginnings to plant health champion
As Mr Atumurirava finishes off his illustrious career in horticulture, ACIAR is partnership with ACIAR and his journey in plant health in the region.
‘I grew up in Rotuma, a beautiful island with lush vegetation and crystal-clear waters. I have always seen Rotumans as self-sufficient in food production as the small islands are so isolated from mainland Fiji,’ said Mr Atumurirava.
‘Rotumans, like any other Pacific islanders, have a special connection to the land and sea as it is a food source and a way to earn a living, so I have always seen the importance of self-subsistence farming.
‘I have seen the importance of agriculture for the people of the Pacific and how suspectable our most valuable resources in the food systems are to climate change and pests and diseases.’
After finishing his academic pursuits, Mr Atumurirava worked at Fiji's Ministry of Primary Industries, and then in 2003 Mr Atumurirava joined SPC’s Land and Resources Division (LRD) as a pest technician under the ACIAR-supported project on Taro Beetle Management in the Pacific Islands.
‘I then joined another ACIAR-supported project on the Management of Diamondback moth in Fiji and Samoa. In 2008, I was awarded a John Allwright Fellowship (JAF) and decided to enhance my leadership skills,’ said Mr Atumurirava.
‘The research on the management of diamondback moth was part of my fellowship.’
Dr Michael Furlong of the University of Queensland has worked with Mr Atumurirava for almost 2 decades.
‘During those 20 years, I have developed a friendship and a great working relationship with him. I have been able to turn to him for advice and seen his contributions to agriculture not just for Fiji but the region. Mr Atumurirava has a deep passion for imparting knowledge to his team, regional partners and farmers. He will be sorely missed by me and everyone at SPC,’ said Dr Furlong.
‘Mr Atumurirava’s work has had a significant impact on agriculture in the Pacific Islands. He has helped farmers to develop new pest and disease management strategies, and he has also advocated for sustainable agricultural practices.’
The John Allwright Fellowship (JAF) provides scientists from partner countries involved in ACIAR research projects with the opportunity to obtain postgraduate qualifications at an Australian tertiary institution.
Mr Atumurirava said the JAF gave his career an academic boost.
‘I have always been driven by an unquenchable thirst for research, and the fellowship enabled me to dive into my research career further,’ said Mr Atumurirava.
ACIAR has a unique outlook on capacity building as the alumni network is very active. Even now, I engage with the network, and ACIAR finds opportunities for its alumni to network and share their research and improve on how they contribute to science in their own countries.
Mr Fereti Atumurirava
Pest and Disease Management Adviser, Land Resources Division, SPC
‘Working with scientists and specialists from various Australian universities is very inspiring. I have learnt a lot from Pacific specialists, the project team leaders, and the regional network of farmers and regional agricultural ministries.
‘I would encourage everyone in agriculture to consistently upgrade their skills and continue to learn because threats to our land, plants, soils keep on evolving, so it's important to continue learning and upgrading our skills.’
Dr Furlong added that Mr Atumurirava’s legacy is one of innovation and resilience.
‘His fellowship research on diamondback moth resistance confirmed its presence in the Pacific for the first time,’ said Dr Furlong.
‘It was a significant discovery, as it showed that the pest was becoming increasingly difficult to control. His research paved the way for the introduction of new, more selective insecticides into the region. These insecticides are now easily accessible in Fiji and are crucial to the sustainable management of the diamondback moth.’
Legacy in plant health
ACIAR Research Program Manager for Horticulture, Ms Irene Kernot added that ACIAR was pleased to work with Mr Atumurirava and proud of his legacy in the region.
‘The name Fereti is synonymous in the region with plant health. Working with him has always been very enjoyable, and anyone can see how much passion Fereti has for healthy crops and sustainable agriculture,’ said Ms Kernot.
‘I have seen Fereti as a mentor to those around him. He made significant contributions to plant health and biosecurity, including upskilling farmers, agricultural officers in plant health issues, developing training materials for farmers and being instrumental in developing the regional network of plant health doctors and leading the development of the region's first Biosecurity Containment Level 3 Plant health laboratory.’
Land Resources Division Team Leader Sustainable Agriculture Programme, Mr Gibson Susumu added that Mr Atumurirava had contributed to the SPC family for over 20 years.
‘Mr Atumurirava has been an asset to the Land Resources Division, and he has led teams and built relations with stakeholders and government partners. Through Fereti’s leadership, SPC has made its mark as a regional centre of excellence in pest and disease diagnostics while supporting regional food security amid the fast-growing influence of climate change,’ said Mr Susumu.
‘Fereti is a true researcher at heart. He has imparted a lot of knowledge within SPC and built the capacity of his team and partner institutions' capacity.’
Mr Atumurirava’s journey in serving the farmers and protecting the region's plant health will continue.
‘It has been an incredible journey. I have worked in over 10 Pacific countries, and my greatest achievement will always be serving farmers, understanding their needs, and providing practical examples,’ said Mr Atumurirava.
‘I will continue to work with Fijian farmers in a personal capacity and help strengthen networks. Over the years, I have learnt so much from farmers, it's a great reminder that when you practise traditional knowledge with science, you can achieve wonders.’