Caption:?H.E. the President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau receiving the whales tooth as part of the Fijian traditional ceremonies of welcome at the Commonwealth Veterinary Association Regional Conference.
More than 100 participants from around the world have gathered at the 15th Commonwealth Veterinary Association Regional Conference in Nadi to discuss ways of sustaining animal health production and care.
While speaking at the opening of the conference this morning, His Excellency the President Ratu Epeli Nailatikau said producing and sustaining Fiji?s production is a challenge due to the growing requirements for stringent food safety standards, disease control, animal welfare and the need for veterinarians.
The head of state pointed out that the low presence animal specialists against the increased consumption of livestock products have led to gaps that need to be filled.
?The consumption and imports of livestock products from dairy products like powdered milk, ice cream, cheese and yoghurt, to meats, leather and fibre are increasing steadily right across the region,? Ratu Epeli said.
?Fiji imported $68million worth of dairy products in 2012 while animal and meat products imports reached $57m. The major challenge is to produce more of these requirements locally while providing economic opportunities, greater self-reliance and an enhanced food security in the process.?
The President highlighted that the Fijian government is ensuring greater cohesion and effective implementation of the import substitution program to increase self-reliance and reduce imports.
?Government has been injecting around $4m-$5m annually to the livestock sector, in terms of improving livestock research and breeding, upgrading of veterinary pathology laboratory, dairy industry support through the demand driven approach program, livestock rehabilitation program and agriculture development programs.
?Government has also allocated $1m this year for the dairy development program to assist farmers through subsidizing agro-input costs.?
Ratu Epeli added that livestock are an integral part of the Pacific islands? socio and cultural systems and feature prominently in many traditional ceremonies.
He also highlighted that livestock face major risk due to climate change and steps are being taken to ensure sustainability.
He stressed to participants that more effective disease surveillance systems need to be in place to be able to detect and respond to any new disease incursions from changing environment conditions.
Meanwhile, the theme for the week-long conference is ?Sustainable Animal Health Production- the role of veterinary education, disease control, food safety, food security and animal welfare.?