Regional university spearheads capacity building for SDG 14

The University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji is spearheading fisheries market training and research across the region as part of a five-year programme funded to the tune of €5.7 million (US$6 million) by the European Union and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.

Known as the Pacific-European Union Marine Partnership (PEUMP), the project aims to promote sustainable management and sound ocean governance by training and working with fishing communities in Pacific Island countries.

USP is working with regional organisations such as the inter-governmental Pacific Community (SPC), Forum Fisheries Agency and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environmental Program.

The PEUMP project is managed by a unit at SPC, but its intellectual and training components are based at USP’s Institute of Marine Resources in the School of Agriculture, Geography, Environment, Ocean and Marine Sciences.

Community-based training

“Our work is more community based; it’s about poverty alleviation,” the USP’s PEUMP project team leader Lavenie Tawake said during a discussion University World News had with the project team at USP in Fiji’s capital Suva.

The USP component of the project has three key areas. The first covers technical and vocational education and training and continuing professional development, which includes Workplace Training Development Units – short courses designed to enhance workplace skills such as time management and business skills; national certificates, such as fisheries compliance and enforcement that generally requires three to four courses taken over a year; and developing lifelong learning pathways for marine professionals.

The second key area covers coastal fisheries management, focusing on the tertiary level, where USP will be developing postgraduate research capacity through masters and PhD scholarships, and applied research.

The third key area is marine sustainable development, which involves targeted applied research by postgraduate students.

“I’m always of the view that fishing continues to involve more training, which [means] the countries (and curriculum) continue to be updated on new trade requirements and conditions,” said retired USP associate professor of marine studies Dr Joeli Veitayaki.

“We are providing about 60% of the world’s tuna consumption; we need to ensure our people are well fed as well, through smart management,” Veitayaki added in an interview with University World News.

“It is an important responsibility of all coastal states. They need to ensure that we are not replacing fish caught in our waters with chicken, mutton and other processed food that comes from outside. Food security is really important. COVID has shown how volatile it could be for countries that do not ensure food security at local level,” Veitayaki said.

Training programmes

On the courses being offered in Pacific Island Countries such as Kiribati, Tuvalu, Palau, Fiji and Vanuatu, PEUMP’s course developer and trainer, Shirleen Bala, said: “We have training programmes about moving your fish product to market. We train fisheries extension officers about that. They have to be well versed about the value chain.”

USP has developed a one-month MOOC (massive open online course) programme to address SDG 14 (Life below water) that includes an introduction to marine resources. It is offered to people involved in the fisheries sector and its stakeholders such as SPC staff. They receive a certificate at the end of the course.

Recently such a course was conducted in Kiribati, a vast Pacific Island state that is composed of 33 coral atolls and reef islands spread over 3.5 million square metres, which makes the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) under the Law of the Sea convention, the world’s largest.

According to a World Bank report, while foreign vessels catch over US$430 million worth of tuna from its EEZ each year, Kiribati earns less than 10% of that income through fishing access fees. The report also points out that while fish provides food security for Kiribati’s population of 103,500, there is hardly any local fish industry infrastructure such as in processing and marketing to provide livelihoods for the local population.

To develop the fledgling seafood industry in Kiribati, the PEUMP project is training locals, especially women, in entrepreneurship to enable them to establish small seafood businesses. Kiribati’s first batch of graduates of the micro qualification ‘Establishing and operating a small seafood business’ completed their training in September this year.

“They were people involved in seafood businesses like selling fresh fish, seafood packing, product development for communities, etcetera. Most of the people go out fishing and then sell some of the catch,” said Bala.

In developing the course, USP sought the assistance of ANX, an Australian bank that operates in Fiji.

“We have a collaboration with ANZ bank (in) teaching financial literacy for communities in the Pacific,” said Tawake. “It covers the whole area from fisheries officials to the fishers. [It teaches] those who go out fishing how to make a living out of it. It involves budgeting, personal financial managing for home income – but not business plans.”

Rotia Tabua, one of the women who completed the training, told University World News in an email interview from Kiribati: “The seafood business training is very helpful to us. Since the training has just finished recently, it has not been widely applied but it has given us a broader vision for business ideas in the future.”

Sharing the knowledge

Tabua said she is using her training to train others in the seafood business, as is Loanna Taraia, the first Kiribati woman to complete both the micro-qualifications in ‘Establishing and operating a small seafood business’ and ‘Maintaining seafood safety and quality’ offered by PEUMP.

“I have realised that gaining knowledge through this training would be very beneficial for our people in Kiribati … [I am] focusing especially on sharing the knowledge [with] my organisation members,” said Taraia.

The 65-year-old Taraia is the director of the Catholic Women’s Association. Since graduation she’s given over 20 presentations to her association members, who are all women, on establishing seafood businesses.

“I have done this only through presentations and encouraged them to seek assistance from their members of parliament – as this is a practice done by communities, youths, etcetera – in seeking funding for a project,” Taraia said via an email interview.

Summarising the project, PEUMP communications officer Lore Croker said: “They eat a lot of fish there so the demand is high. This course is about how to do business, market surveys, and how to turn an idea into a successful business.”