Dr Mark Schipp on the Pacific Engagement Program

14 Jan 2022

From the desk of Australia’s Chief Veterinary Officer Dr Mark Schipp

Pacific Engagement Program

Australia’s neighbours in the Pacific region are the focus of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment’s Pacific Engagement Program for regional plant and animal health and biosecurity. This program aligns with Australia’s Pacific Step-up foreign policy signifying our commitment to strengthening regional cooperation and integration.

The program is a joint initiative run through the Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer (OCVO) and the Australian Chief Plant Protection Office (ACPPO), which recognises the importance of commercial and smallholder farming in Pacific island countries and territories. Addressing food security, natural disasters and climate change are very high priorities across the region.

Through implementation of the department’s Pacific Biosecurity Strategy under the Commonwealth Biosecurity 2030 strategic roadmap, Australia is committed to strengthening partnerships with our near neighbours to build capacity and strengthen national and regional engagement with key international bodies.

The department’s Pacific Engagement Program will provide targeted funding to support the Pacific Community (SPC) to enhance the Pacific Heads of Veterinary and Animal Production Services (PHOVAPS) network. It will also strengthen engagement with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) through initiatives to increase OIE membership of island countries and territories in the Pacific.

The Program will also facilitate secondments to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) regional and sub-regional offices in collaboration with the department’s Trade, Market Access and International Division under the Global Agricultural Leadership Initiative. My office will also deliver capacity development activities in the Pacific region.

Fijian Ministry of Agriculture

In early December 2021, I travelled to Fiji to meet with key veterinary and agricultural stakeholders to reinforce existing relationships and forge new partnerships. I met with the Fijian Government’s Permanent Secretary of Agriculture Mr Vinesh Kumar, the Head of Animal Health and Production Mr Avinesh Dayal and livestock staff from the Ministry of Agriculture. I also visited Koronivia Research Station, the Ministry of Agriculture’s laboratory facility.

Some of the key priorities for the Ministry of Agriculture in Fiji are the management of bovine tuberculosis, caseous lymphadenitis in sheep and goats, and the impact of wild or stray dogs, which are attacking livestock.

Ministry of Agriculture Senior Veterinary Officer Dr Keresi Lomata explained that enhancing veterinary capacity was also a priority for Fiji. Currently, there are a limited number of registered veterinarians in Fiji, which limits the government’s ability to increase agricultural production.

We had discussions around the establishment of a veterinary council for Fiji, updates to Fiji's biosecurity and veterinary services legislation, promoting access to affordable veterinary medicines and the positioning of Fiji as a regional leader in animal health and production.

Fiji National University

I visited the Fiji National University (FNU), touring the veterinary training farm and meeting with the acting Vice-Chancellor Dr William Mayand and staff. Graduates of FNU's Bachelor of Veterinary Science are not currently able to register as veterinarians in Fiji under current legislation and higher education accreditation requirements.

Although some graduates have been employed as veterinary paraprofessionals in Fiji, the absence of a clear pathway to becoming a registered veterinarian is limiting. In collaboration with FNU and Australian partner organisations, the Australian Government is investigating the merits and feasibility of a bridging internship to support graduates of the veterinary program to achieve OIE ‘Day One Competencies', with a particular focus on large animal clinical skills.

BAF, PHAMA Plus and ACIAR

Whilst in Fiji, I also met with various stakeholders including the Chief Executive Officer of the Biosecurity Authority of Fiji (BAF) and Fiji’s Delegate to the OIE, Mr Surend Pratap. I met with the Director of SPC Land Resource Division Ms Karen Mapusua, as well as representatives from the Pacific Horticultural and Agricultural Market Access Program, (PHAMA Plus) and the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), which is supporting important agricultural research projects, including projects on beekeeping, antimicrobial resistance and improving small ruminant production in Fiji.

My visit was facilitated by the Australian High Commissioner to Fiji and local colleagues of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade based in the Pacific. The trip provided an important opportunity to build our understanding of animal health issues and veterinary capacity in Fiji. This will help inform how Australia and Fiji work together on targeted and regional animal health capacity building initiatives that are beneficial, sustainable and complement the work of other partners. 

Strengthening biosecurity

The Pacific Engagement Program will support better coordination and a multi-disciplinary approach to help both Australia and our Pacific neighbours to protect our agriculture and food systems, stop the spread of pests and diseases, maintain and expand trade and market access opportunities, and safeguard environmental values and our way of life.

By supporting our Pacific neighbours to strengthen their biosecurity systems, we are enhancing animal and plant health systems across the region – which importantly also contributes to maintaining Australia’s own biosecurity status. I look forward to updating you on further developments in the department’s Pacific Engagement Program over the coming years.