Agricultural food systems | UniSC | University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia

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Agricultural food systems

Nationals Working In Plantation
Port Vila market
Luscious Field in Pacific Islands

Our research on subtropical and tropical postharvest horticulture systems in the Pacific centres on developing supply chains for wider food security, poverty alleviation and sustainable livelihood development outcomes.

Key researcher: Professor Steven Underhill

Research projects

Banana Stall Vanuatu
Adopting a gender-inclusive participatory approach to reducing horticultural food loss in the Pacific 

2022 - 2024 

Smallholder farmers in the Pacific region can experience food losses from 5-20% of their total production, which means income loss for farmers, and nutrition loss for consumers. There are multiple points in the value chain, from distribution to storage to market, where valuable food is lost. An underlying issue observed is the gender inequality and a lack of gender awareness within value chains in the Pacific.

This project aims to investigate and remediate food loss in Pacific Island value chains. Using a gender-sensitive, participatory approach the project team will seek to understand where food loss occurs, identify the drivers of food loss, then design affordable interventions to reduce the social and economic cost of food loss.

Addressing food loss in the region could improve monetary returns for farmers, food availability and affordability for consumers, and widen fruit and vegetable choices for overall improvement of Pacific diets and nutrition.

This project intends to contribute to the fight against non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the Pacific region from within the homes of farmers and the purchasing experience of consumers.

Project team: Dr Seeseei Molimau-Samosoni (Project Lead - Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa), Prof Steven Underhill (UniSC), Mr Soane Patolo (Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovation Tonga Trust), A/Prof Nichole Georgeou (Western Sydney University), A/Prof Salesh Kumar (Fiji National University), Mr Lawrence Atu (Solomon Islands National University) and Dr Saskia de Klerk (UniSC).

Funding: ACIAR A$845,000 


Tree planing workshop in the field
Enhanced fruit systems for Tonga and Samoa (Phase 2): Community based citrus production

2021 - 2025

Tonga and Samoa have some of the highest rates of obesity in the world, with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) the leading cause of mortality. For health outcomes to be improved in both island nations, it is essential locally-grown and affordable fresh fruits and vegetables are made more readily and reliably available.

This ACIAR HORT/2019/165 project aims to increase domestic citrus production in Tonga and Samoa to create viable and sustainable fruit production systems in support of human nutrition, community capacity building and gender empowerment outcomes. It builds upon a former ACIAR-funded research project (ACIAR HORT/2014/077 Enhanced fruit production and postharvest handling systems for Fiji, Samoa and Tonga – 2015-2020), which established four mixed citrus orchards in Tonga and increased local horticultural knowledge.

In Tonga, these established orchards will now be translated into resilient citrus value chains. Cyclonic wind protection and ground cover options will be investigated to inform potential improvements for local orchard management. The project will provide propagation training to ensure local nurseries have the capacity and backing to sustainably supply true-to-type grafted citrus trees for farmers. It will also support new village-based businesses, providing economic opportunities for women and rural communities.

In Samoa, new and robust citrus cultivars will be introduced to extend the currently short fruit production season and household-scale value-adding opportunities will be explored so that excess fruit can be utilised to create new processed products such as juices, essential oils, dried fruit and more to further support local enterprise.

Postharvest analysis will be undertaken in both countries with trials informing recommendations aimed at reducing loss and improving fruit quality for enhanced farmer livelihoods. Capacity-building workshops will be conducted to promote best practice small-holder orchard management, while a series of handbooks will be published in local language providing a long-term resource for the region’s developing citrus industry. Consumer purchasing behaviours and food choices will also be investigated and village-based healthy eating gardens established.

Project team: Prof Steven Underhill (Project Lead), A/Prof John Chapman, Dr Richard Beyer, Dr Sarah Burkhart, Mrs Tara Johnstone, Dr Yuchan Zhou, Mr Minoru Nishi (Nishi Trading Tonga), Mr Soane Patolo (Mainstreaming of Rural Development Innovation (MORDI) - Tonga Trust), Mrs Luseane Taufa (Ministry of Agriculture and Food, Forests and Fisheries (MAFFF) - Tonga), Dr Seeseei Molimau-Samasoni (Scientific Research Organisation of Samoa (SROS), and collaborations with The University of Queensland and Fiji National University.

Funding: This project is supported by approximately $1.23 million in funding from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) along with in-kind support from the above-listed partner organisations.


Ono Island Gardens
Understanding the links between climate hazards, food systems and nutrition in rural communities of the Fiji Islands


Communities across the Pacific are being challenged by the impacts of climate change, including on food security. A priority goal for the region is to improve dietary quality and reduce non-communicable diseases.

This project focused on exploring the links between climate hazards, food systems and diets in remote coastal villages of Fiji. Livelihood transitions and climate hazards explain why households have become less reliant on local fisheries and agriculture for their dietary needs. Most households routinely consume locally-sourced food items from only four food groups. In addition, diets are shifting and now include significant quantities of energy-dense processed (imported) foods with low nutritional value.

The study highlights the importance of increasing availability of fruits and vegetables, mainly through local production, and diversifying sustainable sources of animal protein as strategies to increase diet quality. The methodology developed for this project has the potential to be replicated to support initiatives aimed at promoting the sustainable transformation of food systems, food and nutrition security, and human health.

Author: Daniela Medina Hidalgo

Daniela Medina Hidalgo is supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship and a Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Postgraduate Scholarship.

Medina Hidalgo, D., Witten, I., Nunn, P. D., Burkhart, S., Bogard, J. R., Beazley, H., & Herrero, M. (2020). Sustaining healthy diets in times of change: linking climate hazards, food systems and nutrition security in rural communities of the Fiji Islands. Regional Environmental Change, 20(3), 73.


For more information on related projects, visit Other Agricultural food systems projects