Science and technology in Pacific Island countries
- 1 Socio-economic context
- 2 Regional initiatives
- 3 National policy issues
- 4 Sustainable development
- 4.1 Disaster resilience
- 4.2 Climate change
- 4.3 Samoa Pathway
- 4.4 Forestry
- 4.5 Energy
- 4.6 Inclusion of traditional knowledge
- 4.7 Renewable energy targets
- 5 Scientific output in the region
- 6 References
- 7 Sources
Pacific Island economies are mostly dependent on natural resources, with a tiny manufacturing sector and no heavy industry. In Fiji and Papua New Guinea, for instance, there is a need to adopt automated machinery and design in forestry and to improve training, in order to add value to exports.
Papua New Guinea experienced the strongest economic growth between 2005 and 2013 (60%), during the commodities boom. Even during the global financial and economic crisis of 2008-2009, its economy grew by 13%. Vanuatu saw the next strongest growth (35%) over this period, including 10% growth in 2008-2009. Growth was more pedestrian in the Marshall Islands (a cumulative 19%), Tuvalu (16%), Samoa (15%), Kiribati (13%), Fiji (12%) and Tongo (8%). The economies of the Federated States of Micronesia and Palau actually shrank over this nine-year period. Samoa, the Marshall Islands and Fiji all experienced recession in 2008 and 2009.
The trade balance is more skewed towards imports than exports, with the exception of Papua New Guinea, which has a mining industry. There is growing evidence that Fiji is becoming a re-export hub in the Pacific; between 2009 and 2013, its re-exports grew threefold, accounting for more than half of all exports by Pacific Island states. Samoa can also expect to become more integrated in global markets from now on, having joined the World Trade Organization in 2012. Fiji, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands are also members of the World Trade Organization.
Pacific Island states make up a very small share of the South Pacific's high-tech exports. These exports receded between 2008 and 2013 by 46% for Fiji and by 41% for Samoa, according to the United Nations' Comtrade database. Fiji's high-tech exports were down from US$5.0 million to US$2.7 million and Samoa's from US$0.3 to US$0.2 million.
In 2013, the majority of Fijian high-tech exports were pharmaceutical products (84%), whereas Samoa exports mainly scientific instruments (86%) and Kiribati non-electrical machinery (79%). Armaments make up 92% of high-exports from the Solomon Islands.
By 2013, one in three inhabitants of Fiji, Tonga and Tuvalu had Internet access. Growth in internet access since 2010 has levelled out the disparity between countries to some extent, although connectivity remained extremely low in Vanuatu (11%), the Solomon Islands (8%) and Papua New Guinea (7%) in 2013.
Advances in mobile phone technology have clearly been a factor in the provision of internet access to remote areas. The flow of knowledge and information through internet is likely to play an important role in the more effective dissemination and application of knowledge across the vast Pacific Island nations.
Regional bodies addressing technological issues
The lack of national and regional policy frameworks has been a major stumbling block for developing integrated national agendas. Since 2010, Pacific Island states have moved forward in this regard by establishing a number of regional bodies to address technological issues for sectorial development. None of these agencies has a specific mandate for science and technology policy however. Examples are the:
- The Pacific Community (SPC) for climate change, fisheries and agriculture;
- Pacific Forum Secretariat for transport and telecommunications; and
- Secretariat of the Pacific Region Environmental Programme for related issues.
Pacific–Europe Network for Science, Technology and Innovation
The establishment of the Pacific–Europe Network for Science, Technology and Innovation (PACE-Net Plus) goes some way towards filling the void in science policy, at least temporarily. Funded by the European Commission within its Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Innovation (2007–2013), this project has spanned the period 2013–2016 and thus overlaps with the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme.
The objectives of PACE–Net Plus are to reinforce the dialogue between the Pacific region and Europe in science, technology and innovation; to support biregional research and innovation through calls for research proposals; and to promote scientific excellence and industrial and economic competition. Ten of its 16 members come from the Pacific region and the remainder from Europe.
The Pacific partners are the Australian National University, Montroix Pty Ltd (Australia), University of the South Pacific, Institut Malardé in French Caledonia, National Centre for Technological Research into Nickel and its Environment in New Caledonia, South Pacific Community, Landcare Research Ltd in New Zealand, University of Papua New Guinea, Samoa National University and the Vanuatu Cultural Centre.
The other six partners are: the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Institut de recherche pour le développement in France, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation, a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States and the European Union, the Sociedade Portuguesa de Inovação, United Nations Industrial Development Organization and Leibniz Centre for Tropical Marine Ecology in Germany.
PACE-Net Plus focuses on three societal challenges:
- Health, demographic change and well-being;
- Food security, sustainable agriculture, marine and maritime research and the bio-economy; and
- Climate action, resource efficiency and raw materials.
PACE–Net Plus has organized a series of high-level policy dialogue platforms alternately in the Pacific region and in Brussels, the headquarters of the European Commission. These platforms bring together key government and institutional stakeholders in both regions, around STI issues.
A conference held in Suva (Fiji) in 2012 under the umbrella of PACE–Net Plus produced recommendations for a strategic plan for research, innovation and development in the Pacific. The conference report published in 2013 identified R&D needs in the Pacific in seven areas:
- agriculture and forestry;
- fisheries and aquaculture;
- biodiversity and ecosystem management;
- natural hazards; and
Pacific Islands University Research Network
Noting the general absence of regional and national policies and plans for science, technology and innovation in the Pacific, the PACE–Net Plus conference established the Pacific Islands University Research Network to support intra- and inter- regional knowledge creation and sharing and to prepare succinct recommendations for the development of a regional policy framework for science, technology and innovation.
Importance of data to inform policy
It was intended for the policy role of the Pacific Islands University Research Network to be informed by evidence gleaned from measuring capability in science, technology and innovation but the absence of data presents a formidable barrier. As of 2015, only Fiji had recent data on expenditure on research and development (R&D) and there were no recent data on researchers and technicians for any of the developing Pacific island countries.
Without relevant data, it will be difficult for developing Pacific Island states to monitor their progress towards Sustainable Development target 9.5, namely: Enhance scientific research, upgrade the technological capabilities of industrial sectors in all countries, in particular developing countries, including, by 2030, encouraging innovation and substantially increasing the number of research and development workers per 1 million people and public and private research and development spending. The two indicators chosen by the United Nations to measure progress are research and development expenditure as a proportion of GDP (9.5.1) and Researchers (in full-time equivalent) per million inhabitants (9.5.2).
National policy issues
Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa all consider education to be one of the key policy tools for driving science, technology and innovation, as well as modernization. Fiji, in particular, has made a supreme effort to re-visit existing policies, rules and regulations in this sector. The Fijian government allocates a larger portion of its national budget to education than any other Pacific Island country (4.2% of GDP in 2011), although this is down from 6% of GDP in 2000. The proportion of the education budget allocated to higher education (0.5% of GDP) amounts to 13% of the public education budget. Scholarship schemes like National Toppers, introduced in 2014, and the availability of student loans have made higher education attractive and rewarding in Fiji.
According to an internal investigation into the choice of disciplines in school-leaving examinations (year 13), Fijian students have shown a greater interest in science since 2011. A similar trend can be observed in enrolment figures at all three Fijian universities.
Many Pacific Island countries take Fiji as a benchmark for education. The country draws education leaders from other Pacific Island countries for training and, according to the Ministry of Education, teachers from Fiji are in great demand in these countries.
One important initiative has been the creation of the Higher Education Commission (FHEC) in 2010, the regulatory body in charge of tertiary education in Fiji. FHEC has embarked on registration and accreditation processes for tertiary-level education providers to improve the quality of higher education in Fiji. In 2014, FHEC allocated research grants to universities with a view to enhancing the research culture among faculty.
Research and development
Fiji is the only developing Pacific Island country with recent data for gross domestic expenditure on research and development (GERD). The national Bureau of Statistics cites a GERD/GDP ratio of 0.15% in 2012. Private-sector research and development (R&D) is negligible. Between 2007 and 2012, government investment in R&D tended to favour agriculture. Scientists publish much more in geosciences and medical sciences than in agricultural sciences, however.
Food security has been given high priority in the Fiji 2020 Agriculture Sector Policy, as part of a shift from subsistence to commercial agriculture and agro-processing. Strategies outlined in Fiji 2020 include:
- modernizing agriculture in Fiji;
- developing integrated systems for agriculture;
- improving delivery of agricultural support systems;
- enhancing innovative agricultural business models; and
- strengthening the capacity for policy formulation.
Fiji has taken the initiative of shifting away from subsistence agriculture towards commercial agriculture and agro-processing of root crops, tropical fruits, vegetables, spices, horticulture and livestock. In 2013, the Ministry of Agriculture revived Fiji’s Agricultural Journal in 2013, which had been dormant for 17 years.
In 2007, agriculture and primary production accounted for just under half of government expenditure on R&D, according to the Fijian National Bureau of Statistics. By 2012, this had risen to almost 60%. Scientists publish much more in the field of geosciences than in agriculture, though. Between 2008 and 2014, agriculture accounted for only 11 out of Fiji's 460 articles catalogued in Thomson Reuters' Web of Science (Science Citation Index Expanded), compared to 85 articles in geosciences.
The rise in government spending on agricultural research has come to the detriment of research in education, which dropped to 35% of total research spending between 2007 and 2012. Government expenditure on health has remained fairly constant, at about 5% of the total for research, according to the Fijian National Bureau of Statistics.
Over the six years to 2012, government expenditure on health remained fairly constant but low in Fiji, at about 5% of the total for research, according to the Fijian National Bureau of Statistics. This may explain why medical sciences accounted for only 72 out of Fiji's 460 articles catalogued in Thomson Reuters' Web of Science (Science Citation Index Expanded) between 2008 and 2014.
The Fijian Ministry of Health is seeking to develop endogenous research capacity through the Fiji Journal of Public Health, which it launched in 2012. A new set of guidelines are now in place to help build endogenous capacity in health research through training and access to new technology. The new policy guidelines require that all research projects initiated in Fiji with external bodies demonstrate how the project will contribute to local capacity-building in health research.
The desire to ensure that fisheries remain sustainable is fuelling the drive to use science and technology to make the transition to value-added production. The fisheries sector in Fiji is currently dominated by the catch of tuna for the Japanese market. The Fijian government plans to diversify this sector through aquaculture, inshore fisheries and offshore fish products such as sunfish and deep-water snapper. Accordingly, many incentives and concessions are being offered to encourage the private sector to invest in these areas.
Fiji has shown substantial growth in access to Internet and mobile phone services. This trend has been supported by its geographical location, service culture, pro-business policies, English-speaking population and well-connected e-society. Relative to many other South Pacific Islands, Fiji has a fairly reliable and efficient telecommunications system with access to the Southern Cross submarine cable linking New Zealand, Australia and North America. A recent move to establish the University of the South Pacific Stathan ICT Park, the Kalabo ICT economic zone and the ATH technology park in Fiji should boost the ICT support service sector in the Pacific region.
Papua New Guinea
In its Higher Education Plan III 2014–2023, Papua New Guinea sets out a strategy for transforming tertiary education and R&D through the introduction of a quality assurance system and a programme to overcome its limited R&D capacity.
Research and development
The National Vision 2050 was adopted in 2009. It has led to the establishment of the Research, Science and Technology Council. At its gathering in November 2014, the Council re-emphasized the need to focus on sustainable development through science and technology.
Vision 2050’s medium-term priorities are:
- emerging industrial technology for downstream processing;
- infrastructure technology for the economic corridors;
- knowledge-based technology;
- Science and engineering education; and
- to reach the target of investing 5% of GDP in R&D by 2050.
Between 2008 and 2014, 82% of scientific articles from Papua New Guinea concerned the biological and medical sciences. Less than 10% of the country's 517 articles catalogued in Thomson Reuters' Web of Science (Science Citation Index Expanded) focused on geosciences.
Countries around the Pacific Rim are seeking ways to link their national knowledge base to regional and global advances in science. One motivation for this greater interconnectedness is the region’s vulnerability to geohazards such as earthquakes and tsunamis – the Pacific Rim is not known as the Ring of Fire for nothing. In 2009, Samoa suffered a submarine earthquake of a magnitude of 8.1 on the Richter Scale, the strongest earthquake recorded that year. The subsequent tsunami caused substantial damage and loss of life in Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga.
The need for greater disaster resilience is inciting countries to develop collaboration in the geosciences.
Climate change is a parallel concern, as the Pacific Rim is also one of the most vulnerable regions to rising sea levels and increasingly capricious weather patterns. In March 2015, for instance, much of Vanuatu was flattened by Cyclone Pam.
Climate change seems to be the most pressing environmental issue for Pacific Island countries, as it is already affecting almost all socio-economic sectors. The consequences of climate change can be seen in agriculture, food security, forestry and even in the spread of communicable diseases. Climate change mostly concerns marine issues, such as the growing frequency and severity of storms, rising sea levels and the increased salinity of soils and groundwater.
The Secretariat of the Pacific Community has initiated several activities to tackle problems associated with climate change. These cover a great variety of areas, including fisheries, freshwater, agriculture, coastal zone management, disaster management, energy, traditional knowledge, education, forestry, communication, tourism, culture, health, weather, gender implications and biodiversity. Almost all Pacific Island countries are involved in one or more of these activities.
Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change
The first major scheme focusing on adaptation to climate change and climate variability dates back to 2009. Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change involves 13 Pacific Island nations, with international funding from the Global Environment Facility, as well as from the US and Australian governments.
Secretariat of the Pacific Region Environment Programme
Several projects related to climate change are also being co-ordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme, within the Secretariat of the Pacific Region Environmental Programme (SPREP). The aim of SPREP is to help all members improve their ‘capacity to respond to climate change through policy improvement, implementation of practical adaptation measures, enhancing ecosystem resilience to the impacts of climate change and implementing initiatives aimed at achieving low-carbon development’.
The blueprint for the subregion’s sustainable development over the coming decade is the Samoa Pathway, the action plan adopted by countries at the third United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States in Apia (Samoa) in September 2014. The Samoa Pathway focuses on, inter alia, sustainable consumption and production; sustainable energy, tourism and transportation; climate change; disaster risk reduction; forests; water and sanitation, food security and nutrition; chemical and waste management; oceans and seas; biodiversity; desertification, land degradation and drought; and health and non-communicable diseases.
Forestry is an important economic resource for Fiji and Papua New Guinea. However, forestry in both countries uses low and semi-intensive technological inputs. As a result, product ranges are limited to sawed timber, veneer, plywood, block board, moulding, poles and posts and wood chips. Only a few limited finished products are exported. Lack of automated machinery, coupled with inadequately trained local technical personnel, are some of the obstacles to introducing automated machinery and design. Policy-makers need to turn their attention to eliminating these barriers, in order for forestry to make a more efficient and sustainable contribution to national economic development.
On average, 10% of the GDP of Pacific Island countries funds imports of petroleum products but in some cases this figure can exceed 30%. In addition to high fuel transport costs, this reliance on fossil fuels leaves Pacific economies vulnerable to volatile global fuel prices and potential spills by oil tankers.
Consequently, many Pacific Island countries are convinced that renewable energy will play a role in their socio-economic development. In Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa and Vanuatu, renewable energy sources already represent significant shares of the total electricity supply: 60%, 66%, 37% and 15% respectively. Tokelau has even become the first country in the world to generate 100% of its electricity using renewable sources.
According to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, renewable energy still represented less than 10% of total energy use in the 22 Pacific Island countries and territories in 2015. The Secretariat of the Pacific Community observed that, 'while Fiji, Papua New Guinea and Samoa are leading the way with large-scale hydropower projects, there is enormous potential to expand the deployment of other renewable energy options such as solar, wind, geothermal and ocean-based energy sources'.
International development partners are participating in several projects to develop renewable energy in the Pacific island states.
Cook Islands Renewable Energy Chart Implementation Plan
In the Cook Islands, for instance, the Asian Development Bank plans to supply electricity from renewable energy to all inhabited islands by 2020, within the Cook Islands Renewable Energy Chart Implementation Plan for 2012–2020. New solar photovoltaic power plants with lithium-ion batteries were being built on up to six islands of the Southern Group in 2014.
Pacific Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency
In April 2014, Pacific Ministers for Energy and Transport agreed to establish the Pacific Centre for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, 'a first for the Pacific'. The centre will become part of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization's network of regional Sustainable Energy for All Centres of Excellence, along with centres for the Caribbean Community, Economic Community of West African States, the Southern African Development Community and the East African Community.
Renewable Energy in Pacific Island Countries Developing Skills and Capacity programme
Efforts are under way to improve countries’ capacity to produce, conserve and use renewable energy. For example, the European Union has funded the Renewable Energy in Pacific Island Countries Developing Skills and Capacity programme (EPIC). Since its inception in 2013, EPIC has developed two master’s programmes in renewable energy management and helped to establish two Centres of Renewable Energy, one at the University of Papua New Guinea and the other at the University of Fiji. Both centres became operational in 2014 and aim to create a regional knowledge hub for the development of renewable energy.
Adapting to Climate Change and Sustainable Energy programme
In February 2014, the European Union and the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat signed an agreement for a programme on Adapting to Climate Change and Sustainable Energy worth €37.26 million which will benefit 15 Pacific Island states. These are the Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.
Inclusion of traditional knowledge
Limited freedom of expression and, in some cases, religious conservatism discourage research in certain areas but the experience of Pacific Island countries shows that sustainable development and a green economy can benefit from the inclusion of traditional knowledge in formal science and technology, as underlined by the Sustainable Development Brief prepared by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in 2013.
Renewable energy targets
Many Pacific Island countries established new targets for renewable energy between 2010 and 2012.
National Energy targets for Pacific Island countries
|Cook Islands||50% of energy demand provided by renewable energy by 2015 and 100% by 2020||2015 and 2020|
|Palau||20% renewable and a 30% reduction in energy consumption||2020|
|Tonga||50% renewable and the overall energy cost reduced by 50%||2015|
|Vanuatu||33% renewable, target fixed by UNELCO, a private company||2013|
Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030, Table 27.3, based on Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Sustainable Development Brief (2013)
Scientific output in the region
According to the Web of Science, Papua New Guinea had the largest number of publications (110) among Pacific Island states in 2014, followed by Fiji (106). Fijian research was concentrated in a handful of scientific disciplines, such as medical sciences, geosciences and biology. Nine out of ten scientific publications from Papua New Guinea focused on immunology, genetics, biotechnology and microbiology.
This pattern contrasts with the trend observed in the French territories of New Caledonia and French Polynesia, where there was a strong emphasis on geosciences: six to eight times the world average for this field.
More than three-quarters of articles published by scientists from Pacific Island nations between 2008 and 2014 were signed by international collaborators, according to Thomson Reuters' Web of Science, Science Citation Index Expanded. International co-authorship was higher for Papua New Guinea and Fiji (90% and 83% respectively) than for New Caledonia and French Polynesia (63% and 56% respectively).
All countries counted North American partners among their top five partners. Fijian research collaboration with North American partners even exceeded that with India, even though a large proportion of Fijians are of Indian origin.
Research partnerships also involved Australia and countries in Europe. Surprisingly, there was little co-authorship with authors based in France, with the notable exception of Vanuatu. Some Pacific Island states counted their neighbours among their closest scientific collaborators, as in the case of the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu.
Many of the smaller Pacific Island states have a near-100% rate of co-authorsip This extremely high rate can be a double-edged sword. According to the Fijian Ministry of Health, research collaboration often results in an article being published in a reputed journal but gives very little back in terms of strengthening health in Fiji. A new set of guidelines are now in place in Fiji to help build endogenous capacity in health research through training and access to new technology. The new policy guidelines require that all research projects initiated in Fiji with external bodies demonstrate how the project will contribute to local capacity-building in health research.
Top five foreign collaborators for South Pacific scientists, 2008-2014
|1st collaborator||2nd collaborator||3rd collaborator||4th collaborator||5th collaborator|
|China (21 058)||Germany
|New Zealand (94)||UK
|Micronesia, Fed States||USA
|Australia (9)||Fiji (8)||Marshall Islands (6)||New Zealand/
|UK (6 385)||Germany
|Papua New Guinea||Australia (375)||USA
|UK (103)||Spain (91)||Switzerland (70)|
|Australia (4)||Ecuador/ Spain/ NZ/France/ Costa Rica/Fiji/ Chile/ Japan (1)||-||-|
|Solomon Islands||Australia (48)||USA (15)||Solomon Is (10)||UK (9)||Fiji (8)|
|Tonga||Australia (17)||Fiji (13)||New Zealand (11)||USA (9)||France (3)|
|Vanuatu||France (49)||Australia (45)||USA (24)||Solomon Islands/NZ/
Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (2015), Figure 27.8. Data from Thomson Reuters' Web of Science, Science Citation Index Expanded, data treatment by Science Metrix
A need to focus on local goals
Countries are struggling to steer their scientific efforts toward sustainable development, at a time when the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals have taken over from the Millennium Development Goals in 2016. It has been suggested that countries could begin by encouraging their scientists to focus more on attaining local goals for sustainable development, rather than on publishing in high-profile international journals on topics that may be of lesser local relevance. The difficulty with this course of action is that the key metrics for recognizing scientific quality are publications and citation data. The answer to this dilemma most likely lies in the need to recognize the global nature of many local development problems. 'We are dealing with problems without boundaries and we underestimate the scale and nature of their consequences at our collective peril. As global citizens, the research and policy communities have an obligation to collaborate and deliver, so arguing for national priorities seems irrelevant'.
New scientific journals
In 2012, the Fijian Ministry of Health launched the Fiji Journal of Public Health, in an attempt to develop endogenous research capacity. In parallel, the Ministry of Agriculture revived Fiji’s Agricultural Journal in 2013, which had been dormant for 17 years.
In addition, two regional journals were launched in 2009 as a focus for Pacific scientific research, the Samoan Medical Journal and the Papua New Guinea Journal of Research, Science and Technology.
- UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (PDF). Paris: UNESCO. 2015. pp. 693–731. ISBN 978-92-3-100129-1.
- "Pacific-first centre of excellence for renewable energy and energy efficiency takes shape". Secretariat of Pacific Community press release. 18 June 2015. Retrieved 17 March 2017.
- Pacific Energy Update 2014 (PDF). Asian Development Bank. 2014.
- Perkins, Nick Ishmael (2012). "Global priorities: local context: a governance challenge". SciDev.net. Retrieved 17 March 2017.