Professor of Horticulture at the University of the Sunshine Coast, Steven Underhill hopes to improve the health of Pacific people with research into progressing the production of fruit in the region.
Underhill received a $2.3 million grant from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Development to run the four-year study in conjunction with local researchers in Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.
"Fruit production currently makes up a very small proportion of commercial horticulture productivity in many Pacific countries,” says Dr Underhill who says the aim of the project is to use strategies, from better crop selection to improved market transport, to boost production and reduce losses of papaya, pineapple, mango, citrus and breadfruit.
He said while many people imagined the Pacific Islands to be abundant with tropical fruit, the reality was quite different.
"Locals tend to focus on growing root and cash vegetable crops and don't tend to spend much effort growing and nurturing tree fruit.''
The Pacific region accounts for seven of the world's top 10 highest obesity rates by country, and Dr Underhill says locals are in desperate need of better access to fresh produce.
"People are told to eat more fruit and vegetables, but that assumes that people have access to that kind of produce," he said. "In places like Tonga, there is very little domestically-grown fruit for months.
"The move away from the traditional agriculture-based lifestyle in the Pacific has resulted in people relying more on cheap imported products with high sugar and high fat, which has seen some poor consequences for health.”
ML - 16