There was a moment of insight at COP27 – The United Nations Climate Change Conference held in Egypt in 2022 – where everything fell into place for Mr Christian-Yves Amato-Ali.
The Rotuman Master of Climate Change student is motivated by the potential of his research to have impact in his community, but he has often despaired that as an individual, he could do little to address the grand challenge of global food security.
However, at COP27, as a representative of the University of the South Pacific and an official observer in negotiations for the region, he experienced a profound moment of connection and understanding.
Through meeting like-minded delegates from all over the world, he saw that each one was working to make a difference in their own way. When put together, those individual efforts were combining to create meaningful, large-scale change.
He left COP27 buoyed up by more than the historic official agreement for a ‘loss and damage’ fund for countries most vulnerable to climate change, including those in the Pacific region.
‘I saw that by making impacts in our small pockets of the world we are all contributing to the bigger picture,’ said Mr Amato-Ali, who also provided a youthful perspective on strengthening food systems as part of an ACIAR panel at the conference.
Stronger supply chain
For his part, Mr Amato-Ali, through his master thesis, is looking at mitigating losses associated with taro production in Tonga. Taro is a popular root vegetable that has been cultivated throughout Asia, the Pacific islands and New Zealand for centuries. He is identifying weaknesses along the supply chain – from on-farm production practices to storage, transport, and the domestic and export markets.
‘My study looks at food loss across the whole value system,’ he said. ‘And then it looks at how reducing this food loss through innovation would add to the climate resilience of farming systems.’
He hopes that by addressing weaknesses in the supply chain, food loss and wastage will be reduced, and improved processes will lead to both environmental and economic benefits.
Funds gained from reducing food losses can be used to strengthen the supply chain and ultimately strengthen the whole system against financial and climate hazards.
ACIAR PASS-CR scholar
Facing the climate challenge
Mr Amato-Ali’s research is supported by the ACIAR PASS-CR program that partners with Pacific universities to foster agricultural research, education and innovation systems across the region. It is linked to the Australian Government’s Pacific Step-up strategy.
Producers in the Pacific region are at the coalface of the impacts of climate change – facing threats from one-off natural disasters, such as intensifying cyclones, as well as constant incremental rises in temperature and sea levels.
Taro is one of the most valuable exports of the Pacific region, so it is critical that losses are minimised in the face of these climate challenges, Mr Amato-Ali said. ‘Farmers have to figure out how they can improve their farming systems given different climate scenarios.’
On-farm he is looking to minimise losses by applying a conservation agriculture-based sustainable intensification (CASI) approach that includes reduced tillage, residue retention and crop rotations aimed at enhancing biodiversity, soil health and wateruse efficiency.
‘I’m investigating how we can improve on-farm practices because sometimes simple things like adding one chemical that increases or decreases the pH of your soil or changes soil structure can improve yields,’ said Mr Amato-Ali.
Further along the value chain, it is equally important to identify opportunities to mitigate food losses – and make gains, he added.
‘I hope to improve awareness and practices. Some may seem like small issues (such as storing produce out of the sun), but these small things all add up.’
In addition to the PASS-CR scholarship, Mr Amato-Ali is a Future Thinkers awardee, receiving extra funding to focus on climate change resilience by comparing approaches across various countries.
In April 2023 he will travel to The University of Melbourne’s Dookie campus in Australia where his supervisors, Associate Professor David Ugalde and Dr Viliamu Iese, are based. He will study on-farm practices to maximise yields of fodder crops and mitigate climate change impacts within the CASI framework, with a view to implementing relevant elements in the Pacific region.
During the year he will also visit Samoa and an ACIAR-supported project looking at food losses at market (‘Adopting a gender-inclusive participatory approach to reducing horticultural food loss in the Pacific’). Mr Amato-Ali said it will provide valuable insight into how research can be translated into community initiatives, as well as providing mentoring opportunities.
ACIAR PASS-CR initiatives support scholars via monthly meetings to discuss their progress during their studies. It also provides seminars to guide the writing process, which Mr Amato-Ali nominates as an invaluable resource.
‘Everyone likes fieldwork, but figuring out how to translate that into your thesis can be daunting,’ said Mr Amato-Ali, whose 2-year master program is due for completion in December 2023. ‘But through the seminars and ongoing support, we are provided with tools to translate our research.’
It is critical, he said, that the research can be understood by the people who will be responsible for implementing it, and ultimately making a difference. ‘It needs to be taken up on the ground,’ he said. ‘That’s the main thing’.
More information: Pacific Agriculture Scholarships, Support and Climate Resilience Program (PASS-CR)