Pacific island countries

Previous Pacific region program
A panel providing information about Pacific Island countries A$13.73 million Budgeted funding  34 ACIAR-supported projects   26 Bilateral and regional research projects 8 Small projects and research activities 26 Projects specific to Sri Lanka  8 Regional projects


Agriculture, fisheries and forestry are vital sectors for the majority of Pacific island communities and countries, because of their contributions to rural livelihoods, gross domestic product (GDP) and food security, as well as increasing opportunities for local regional and international markets.

The Multi-Country Programming Framework for the Pacific Islands 2018–2022, developed in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), identified the following common challenges across the Pacific island countries:

  • limited land mass and dispersed population
  • fragile natural environments and lack of arable land
  • narrow resource bases and reliance on ocean resources
  • high vulnerability to climate change, external economic shocks, and natural disasters
  • exposure to increasingly frequent and more intense severe weather and climate events, including droughts, floods and tropical storms
  • high dependence on food imports
  • dependence on a limited number of economic sectors
  • remoteness and distance from global markets
  • high costs for energy, transportation and communication.

These constraints interact with one another and contribute to increased vulnerability to shocks – both economic shocks (such as abrupt changes in food and fuel prices) and natural disasters (such as cyclones, floods and droughts, earthquakes and tsunamis). These vulnerabilities have limited the development of commercially oriented agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors and left many Pacific island countries heavily dependent on imports of food and other commodities.

The vulnerability of Pacific island countries is increased by their narrow resource base, which implies the economic dependence of many islands on exports of a single commodity or limited range of commodities. Food insecurity is a growing challenge for Pacific island countries in the face of more frequent climate disasters, rising sea levels, and the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

For much of the 20th century, most Pacific island economies were heavily dependent on copra as their principal source of export income; however, with the falling value of coconut oil, this previous source of wealth has become a ‘poverty trap’ for many communities and countries that lack the resources to diversify into higher-value products (which could support the rejuvenation of the industry) or into other crops and commodities.

Other Pacific island countries are heavily dependent on marine resources, especially tuna, for their export earnings. In this case, significant vulnerability arises from the limited control that each country has over the management of this resource. An emerging threat is that rising sea temperatures, especially when accentuated by El Niño cycles, may affect the migration of some tuna species, potentially reducing fish populations within the waters of Pacific island countries.

Dependence on logging – especially the export of round logs – is a challenge in western Melanesian countries (Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and, to a lesser extent, Vanuatu). The natural forest resource is declining rapidly, often accompanied by serious environmental degradation, and exploitation brings little lasting benefit to landowners or the national economy. Partner countries wish to move towards more sustainable management of forest resources and local processing to add value to the timber but lack the economic resources and skills to make this transition.

This context is not static but evolves on a number of scales, in time and space. Changing demographics are one key factor, with populations increasing at more than 2% per annum in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu (as well as Papua New Guinea), leading to mounting concerns about local food security and increasing pressure on the natural resource base. Elsewhere in the Pacific region, populations are either stable (increasing at less than 1% per year) or falling (due to emigration), leading to labour shortages and making it harder to develop profitable enterprises. Additionally, there is a strong move towards urbanisation across the Pacific region, with more than one-third of the total population now living in cities. This has disrupted traditional food systems and diets and is leaving some rural areas and outlying islands with declining populations, hampering economic development and making it hard for governments to assure basic services.

Another widespread vulnerability of Pacific islands agriculture – though with different impacts in each country and island – is invasive pests and diseases. Island environments have inherently limited natural resilience in the face of aggressive invasive species due to the limited local diversity of ‘natural enemies’.

Recent years have been marked with rapidly spreading outbreaks of, for instance, invasive ant species, the destructive ‘Guam strain’ of the familiar coconut rhinoceros beetle, and the giant African snail. Emerging diseases of livestock (and potentially fisheries) may be equally destructive, even if less visible to the general public.

Pacific region leaders have repeatedly identified 2 overriding threats to the economic development and wellbeing of people in the region.

1. Climate change and its impact on food systems

Pacific island countries are disproportionately affected by climate change, while having little scope to influence the drivers of climate change. All countries in the Pacific region are concerned about the potential impacts of climate change on rising sea levels (given that much of the population and most of the productive agriculture in the Pacific islands is in coastal areas or coastal plains), food systems (including new threats from invasive pest species) and their fragile marine resources.

2. Rapid rise in non-communicable diseases, associated with declining diet quality

While under-nutrition remains a problem in some poorer, rural areas of Pacific island countries, changes in diets and lifestyles associated with increasing incomes and urbanisation have led to Pacific island countries having some of the highest levels of obesity in the world, along with record levels of Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. As well as taking a tragic toll in terms of human wellbeing, this rise in the incidence of non-communicable diseases imposes a huge burden on health services and the economy of Pacific region countries in general.

Given these challenges, Pacific leaders have strongly emphasised the need for greater resilience in Pacific region food and agriculture systems as a means to counteract vulnerabilities and to increase food and nutritional security. While investing in agriculture fisheries and forestry has been widely recognised as one of the most effective ways of stimulating broad-based economic growth, the effort to increase resilience, rather than focusing primarily on increasing productivity, has become a theme that underpins the entire agricultural development agenda in the Pacific region. Given the scale and complexity of the problems faced by Pacific island partner countries, it is fortunate that the Pacific region has a strong tradition of multilateral and bilateral institutions and partnerships that have supported many decades of collaboration and concerted action, to address a wide range of issues.

The Pacific Islands Forum provides the overall framework for policy development and action, while the technical agencies, especially SPC and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, provide support to member countries in taking action across a range of sectors and development issues, including health, education, the environment, biosecurity, trade, communications and infrastructure.

ACIAR has been a leading supporter of regional and bilateral research collaboration in the region with SPC, partner countries and other agencies, in agriculture, forestry and fisheries. These existing relationships provide a vital foundation for a portfolio of integrated and cross-sectoral research that will be needed to tackle the 2 high-level challenges outlined above. ACIAR started working with partners in the Pacific region in 1983 and, for the next 2 decades, the majority of projects were sectorally and technically focused.

Country priorities

The ACIAR 10-Year Strategy 2018–2027 positions the agency’s support to the Indo-Pacific region. Our strategic objectives align with the Australian Government International Development Policy, released in 2023, to ‘build resilience to climate impacts to safeguard the liveability of our region … protect the Blue Pacific that connects us, feeds communities, drives economies and is central to Pacific cultures’ and ‘support each nation in their endeavours to unlock new avenues to prosperity, including as they empower women and girls … and diversify trade on global markets’.

Our regional partner, SPC, emphasises integrated approaches to increasing resilience, including:

  • deploying a diversity of species and products in trees, crops, livestock and aquaculture to increase resilience in the face of uncertainty
  • growing a greater number and diversity of trees in forestry, agroforestry and horticulture systems to contribute to more-sustainable and resilient agricultural landscapes
  • diversifying crops to contribute to greater food security, nutrition and health
  • better managing coastal fisheries and aquaculture to underpin healthier nutrition and more-resilient livelihoods
  • strengthening market chains for greater equity
    and inclusion to contribute to improved and more-resilient livelihoods.

Across the board, trans-disciplinary approaches are needed to reduce the vulnerability of the natural resource base and create climate-smart agricultural landscapes. Using national policy, land-use planning and community engagement to manage water, soils, livestock, crops, forests, natural vegetation and coastal marine resources, from ‘ridge to reef’, in an integrated manner can increase resilience and sustainably improve livelihoods. But achieving this will require numerous well-coordinated technological innovations and ways of working.

2023–24 research program

The research program for the Pacific region addresses our high-level objectives, as outlined in the ACIAR 10-Year Strategy 2018–2027, as well as specific issues and opportunities identified by ACIAR and our partner organisations.

The following table lists ACIAR-supported projects active in Pacific island countries during 2023–24.

Current and proposed projects in Pacific island countries, 2023–24

ProgramProject title & codeCountries
 Evaluating an alternative approach to sector development in Pacific island countries AGB/2022/113Fiji
Climate Change
 Transformation pathways for Pacific coastal food systems CLIM/2020/178Kiribati, Solomon Islands
Sustainable agricultural intensification systems for climate resilient development in Pacific island countries CLIM/2020/186Samoa, Tonga
Supporting greenhouse gas inventories and livestock data development in Fiji CLIM/2021/160Fiji
Scoping the governance and co-benefits of circular agrifood-energy systems governance in Pacific island countries CLIM/2022/174Fiji, Kiribati
 Finding a genetic basis for oil palm responses to basal stem rot in a long-term infected block CROP/2021/130Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands
 Half-pearl industry development in Tonga and Vietnam FIS/2016/126Tonga, Vietnam
Towards more profitable and sustainable mabé pearl and shell-based livelihoods in the western Pacific FIS/2019/122Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Tonga
Innovating fish-based livelihoods in the community economies of Timor-Leste and Solomon Islands FIS/2019/124Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste
Spatially integrated approach to support a portfolio of livelihoods FIS/2020/111Solomon Islands, South Pacific general
Coalitions for change in sustainable national community-based fisheries management programs in the Pacific FIS/2020/172Kiribati, Solomon Islands, South Pacific general, Vanuatu
Pursuing more inclusive engagement in agrifood value chains by better understanding the roles and challenges facing people of diverse sexual orientation, gender identity and/or expression in Samoa FIS/2022/119Samoa
Extending integrated analysis for improved food system outcomes in Timor-Leste and the Pacific region FIS/2022/121Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Vanuatu
Supporting resilient and equitable food systems: emerging oyster and seaweed mariculture enterprises in coastal communities in Fiji and northern Australia FIS/2022/147Fiji
 Coconut and other non-traditional forest resources for the manufacture of engineered wood products FST/2019/128Fiji
Livelihoods in forest ecosystem recovery (LIFER) FST/2020/135Solomon Islands
 Adopting a gender-inclusive participatory approach to reducing horticultural food loss in the Pacific CS/2020/191Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga
Responding to emerging pest and disease threats to horticulture in the Pacific islands HORT/2016/185Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga
Safeguarding and deploying coconut diversity for improving livelihoods in the Pacific islands HORT/2017/025Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu
Improving root crop resilience and biosecurity in Pacific island countries and Australia HORT/2018/195Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga
Enhanced fruit systems for Tonga and Samoa (phase 2): community based citrus production HORT/2019/165Samoa, Tonga
PICfood: driving vegetable food environments to promote healthy diets in Pacific island countries HORT/2021/141Fiji
Understanding school food provision in the Pacific: scoping the potential of local food systems to improve diets, nutrition and livelihoods HORT/2021/159South Pacific general
Livestock Systems
 Strengthening Pacific bee-keeping industries for improved production and livelihoods in Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands LS/2014/042Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands
Improving small ruminant production and supply in Fiji and Samoa LS/2017/033Fiji, Samoa
A farm-planning approach to increase productivity and profitability of smallholder cattle systems in Vanuatu LS/2018/185Vanuatu
Integrated and sustainable antimicrobial surveillance networks in the Pacific LS/2019/119Fiji, Samoa
Social Systems
 Improving agricultural development opportunities for female smallholders in rural Solomon Islands SSS/2018/136Solomon Islands
Landcare: an agricultural extension and community development model at district and national scale in Fiji SSS/2019/140Fiji
Supporting food and nutrition security through regenerative climate-smart ridge to reef landscape and food system designs for community conservation areas and buffer zones in Vanuatu SSS/2021/120Vanuatu
Soil & Land Management
 Soil management in Pacific islands: investigating nutrient dynamics and the utility of soil information for better soil and farming system management SLAM/2020/139Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, Vanuatu
A review of the soil and agronomic constraints and opportunities in Pacific food garden systems SLAM/2022/180Fiji, Samoa, Tonga
Assessment of the capacity and sustainability of Pacific agricultural chemistry laboratories SLAM/2022/181Fiji, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu
 Water security for locally relocated coastal communities in the Pacific WAC/2022/128Fiji, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu


Regional Manager, Pacific and Papua New Guinea

Ms Mai (Gay Maureen) Alagcan

Research Program Managers

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More information about our projects is available on the ACIAR website. Search for the project title or project code.


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