The United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Apia includes discussions on a variety of partnerships that contribute to the sustainable economic development of small islands. Recognising that organic agriculture has a significant contribution to make towards sustainable development in the context of small islands due to its environment- and climate-friendly production systems, its suitability for small holders and its adaptation to local conditions, the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) has engaged in a unique partnership with the region’s organic and fair trade movement. Under the umbrella of the Pacific Organic and Ethical Trade Community (POETCom) 30 Pacific Island organisations across 13 countries are being supported in their development aims by SPC.
POETCom describes its self as a ‘home grown initiative’. It grew from the grassroots, from farmers who believed that traditional farming practices enhanced with the best environmental and organic agricultural science held the future for a sustainable, healthy Pacific, and that they themselves had a responsibility for their region. It is inspired, driven and owned by the organic movement of the Pacific region and through its engagement with the SIDS Conference, including various side events at the conference, hopes to attract the support of development partners and other synergistic organisations to realize the full potential of the partnership.
The Chair of the POETCom Advisory Board, Anthony Brown of Cook Islands, said ‘The entire organic system is based on participation and necessary public–private partnerships, whereby smallholders are integrated into markets. Importantly, the diversity of our food cultures, our traditional agricultural knowledge and our food and nutritional security are safeguarded by organic agriculture, this partnership is critical for the sustainable development of the Pacific Islands region.’
The partnership aims to improve local and regional food and nutritional security; develop farmer livelihoods by enabling farmers to trade, with access to both domestic and export markets, and by reducing their dependence on imported production inputs; improve human health by providing better access to high-quality, clean and nutritious food; promote diversified, productive and sustainable farming systems able to face a global climate crisis; protect and enhance the environment by encouraging the use of environmentally friendly management practices; and improve the well-being of people and communities by promoting the adoption of ethical labour and social justice principles.
These outcomes will be achieved through ongoing programmes and activities by individual POETCom members as well as programmes jointly developed with SPC; and effective coordination, information sharing and networking by partnership members. Cooperation in capacity building, in particular through technical end expert exchanges amongst the members of the partnership to share experiences, skills and learning, is a critical element. The partnership will cooperate in advocating for organic agriculture as a development tool and representing the interest of organic producers with policy-makers, and will cooperate in identifying resources to support activities. A key outcome of the partnership to date is establishing and supporting a regional certification scheme to support market access.
The decision to register the partnership through the SIDS Partnership Platform was prompted by what the POETCom Board saw as a significant gap in the SIDS Brief on Sustainable Economic Development released by the United Nations Division for Sustainable Development in the lead up to the SIDS Conference. Mr Brown noted that ‘the SIDS Brief failed to mention the important role of agriculture in sustainable development – it can be our best friend or our worst enemy for sustainability and in the Pacific. The vast majority of the population engage in agriculture, so for the Brief not to address this is a major gap.’ Mr Brown went on to say, ‘The World Bank recently reported that agriculture is up to four times more effective than any other sector in reducing poverty; it also has strong links to sectors such as tourism which were mentioned in the Brief but could be more effectively developed if linked to agricultural outcomes. We hope that through registering our partnership with SPC at SIDS we can raise the importance and profile of organic agriculture as a tool for sustainable economic development.’
SPC hosts the secretariat for POETCom, consolidating SPC’s work done to date to support the growth of organics and ethical trade in the Pacific region. This arrangement also offers a prototype of a new type of public–private partnership. The partnership not only supports POETCom’s goals and objectives but complements the goals and contributes to the overarching development aims of SPC. With SPC’s assistance, POETCom has been able to attract development partner support from the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the United Nations Development Programme, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the French Pacific Fund, the European Union, the Government of French Polynesia, and the Government of New Caledonia.