SAIPAN, CNMI (Marianas Variety, Jan. 16) - Pacific islands must find ways to improve their agriculture to assure a continuous food supply even in times of emergencies, a visiting technical expert from Hawaii said.

According to Andrew G. Hashimoto, dean of the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, the food security situation among the islands is "very vulnerable," which puts pressure on each government to improve their agricultural industry.

Hashimoto was the keynote speaker in the recently held board meeting of the Agricultural Development in the American Pacific program.

Members of this group are representatives from the community colleges in American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, the CNMI, Guam, Hawaii and Palau.

"The board of directors is meeting here. The program is in its 15th year and the objective is look for ways to develop agriculture in the American Pacific islands or former territories of the U.S.," Hashimoto said.

"Island nations are very vulnerable in terms of food security. I think it’s really incumbent on every island to be looking at ways in ensuring that they have a degree of food security—it’s more of a security issue on how do we make agriculture successful," he added.

Food security in the American Pacific is a major concern for federal authorities because these islands’ food supplies are usually imported from the U.S. and other countries.

But a disaster, such as a typhoon, could disrupt the shipment of food products.

Hashimoto said the federal government allots $500,000 each year to help the islands improve their agriculture.

Hashimoto said the CNMI and other Pacific islands share a common advantage—a tropical climate.

"You can grow things here all year-round as opposed to the mainland where you have winter. But there are also challenges in this type of environment. Not only the crops can grow well but also the diseases and pests can grow well," he said.

"So, it’s really looking at how you also manage the pests and diseases. The other thing is really looking at the market. What does the market require as oppose to what you can grow. In many places, including Hawaii, traditionally people are saying, ‘I’m going to grow this’ and then say ‘how can I sell this?’ I think the new paradigm is what do the people want and I’m going to grow what the people want at certain times of the year," he added.

Hashimoto said based on his discussions with some people in the CNMI, there is a demand for more fresh fruits and vegetables. However, buyers also demand certain qualities for such products.

"For example, the management from this hotel say we would like to buy more local products but they are looking for certain qualities...I think the market has to understand that," he said.

January 16, 2003

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