SPC leads discussions on building resilient Pacific communities

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) led a side event on food and nutrition security at the United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS). SPC Director-General Dr Colin Tukuitonga, who moderated the event, stated that food and nutritional security is a critical development issue for SIDS, and that SPC is well positioned and committed to support its member countries and territories in achieving it.

‘There is significant progress at country level, but room to improve coordination at regional level, building on the Regional Food Security Strategy. Where to next is very important and SPC’s coverage and mandate is wide but the issue remains far larger than what SPC can do alone. The objective is to invite collaboration from all including sharing of knowledge and efforts,’ said Dr Tukuitonga.

The panelists include Lord Tu’i’afitu, Tonga’s Minister of Health; Dr Siosiua Halavatau, Deputy Director of SPC’s Land Resources Division; Dirk Schulz, Food Safety and Nutrition Officer with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); Fonoiava S. Sesega, Chief Executive Officer, Samoa Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries; and Afamasaga Toleofoa, Chairman of the Pacific Islands Farmers’ Organization Network.

Lord Tu’i’afitu, who was the first speaker, framed the side event by highlighting a number of food security challenges in the region. These challenges impact significantly on the sustainable development potential of the region. By 2030, coupled with population growth and urbanisation, food security will become even more of a challenge. Reliance on imported food with poor nutritional value is contributing to high non-communicable disease (NCD) rates in the region. Pacific Islanders have some of the highest incidences of NCDs, which cause about 75% of deaths  in the region. The incidence of anemia is reported to be 20% or greater, in both children and pregnant women. In addition, vitamin A deficiency rates in at least four countries (Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia and Papua New Guinea) are among the highest in the world.

He noted that mall markets in the Pacific make us susceptible to high prices and vulnerable to market shocks. More than 50% of household income is spent on food. Declining soil fertility continues to limit agricultural expansion. The key protein source for many Pacific peoples is coastal fisheries, which have reached their maximum yield. It is important to strengthen production of local foods to cater for growing populations. This will also help to minimise NCDs in the region. Climate change remains the most serious threat to agriculture in the region. However in addition we must overcome barriers relating to transport and preservation of foods.

Dr Halavatau, the second speaker, highlighted the regional initiatives being implemented in addressing food security, including genetic resource conservation, development and promotion; evaluation of climate resilient production systems; enhancing livelihood through trade promotion; and improving food security data.

Mr Schulz emphasised that given the profound changes in food and nutrition security in the Pacific – with the growing reliance on imported food along with population growth in SIDS, strengthening food safety and food standards within production, marketing and consumption of healthy island foods can minimise the chronic NCD and micro-nutrient crisis in SIDS. He recommended using the Codex Alimentarius international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice as an opportunity to address the many food security challenges.

Mr Fonoiava pointed out that agriculture is an important source for food security in Samoa, but that agriculture production and productivity has declined since the 1990s, threatening food security in Samoa. Several initiatives and partnerships were established to enhance agriculture production for food security. These include the Samoa agricultural show, which promotes farming technologies. An agriculture stimulus package was recently introduced to strengthen production of cash crops (coffee, cocoa and coconut). He noted that through partnership Samoa had revitalised its taro industry for exports.

Mr Toleofoa explained that food security is not only a challenge, it’s also an opportunity for economic development through strong partnership, especially with the private sector, which can play a critical role in enhancing food security. The private sector is an agent of economic growth but must partner with the government to help maintain growth in the face of challenges to food security from climate change, global economic stability, trade etc. Agriculture and fisheries are mainstays, but turning subsistence farming and fishing into a business is a key barrier.

Important points raised amongst participants include the following:

Most countries have advanced a lot in production of root crops and vegetables but not of fruit. For nutritional purposes this needs to be focused on. SPC should put more emphasis in supporting countries with advancing fruit and vegetable production.

Basic access to food is being mixed up with trade and big corporate production and economic growth, but these are two different things. Value adding and processing should be the focus in this regard.

The side event led to interactive discussions amongst participants on enhancing food security in the region. It was agreed that a food security network would be created amongst food security stakeholders to identify concrete actions to enhance food and nutrition security in the Pacific SIDS.

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