Small Island Developing State leaders join FAO Director-General to explore pathways to resilience

From top left: FAO Director-General QU Dongyu, President Mohamed Irfaan Ali of Guyana, President Tommy Remengesau of Palau, Prime Minister Josaia Vorege Bainimarama of Fiji, Prime Minister Jorge Lopes Bom Jesus of Sao Tome and Principe, President Chandrikapersad Saktokhi of Suriname.

FAO10 December 2020, Brussels/Rome – 

Brussels Dialogue looked at mitigating COVID-19 impacts on island states

The world’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS) face special food-security strains due to climate change, rising oceans, and high reliance on food imports and tourism, which have declined sharply due to the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders of island states said at a dialogue organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

FAO Director-General QU Dongyu noted that the SIDS faced unique vulnerabilities and challenges, which have been further aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Also speaking at the “FAO Brussels Dialogue on weathering COVID-19 in Small Island Developing States: A pathway to resilience” were Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana; Chandrikapersad Santokhi, President of the Republic of Suriname; Tommy Esang Remengesau Jr., President of the Republic of Palau; Tuilaepa Lupesoliai Sailele Malielegaoi, Prime Minister of the Independent State of Samoa; Jorge Lopes Bom Jesus, Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe; and Josaia Vorege Bainimarama, Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji.

The leaders noted that COVID-19’s impact was severe even where the virus did not spread, citing concerns about fewer remittances, school closures and increasing dropout rates. They called for debt relief, technical help to pursue innovation, technology, and an enabling environment for private sector investments in the agri-business sector.

The importance of FAO’s Port State Measures Agreement for countries where fishing is a major food and revenue source was noted by the leaders, as was that of upcoming international summits such as the UN Ocean Conference and the meeting of the Convention of Biological Diversity.

FAO’s Director-General highlighted the Organization’s partnership with SIDS, including the Global Action Programme on Food Security and Nutrition in SIDS (GAP) launched in 2017. Today, he added, the FAO’s flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative is already active in seven SIDS.

“FAO is proud of its genuine, durable and consolidated partnership with the SIDS.” Qu said, adding that “during the COVID-19 pandemic, FAO has continued to advocate for food security and nutrition in the SIDS”. He also noted the establishment of FAO’s Office of Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries and Landlocked Developing Countries (OSL) soon after he took office.

The Director-General invited SIDS countries to make use of e-commerce platforms for direct marketing, and to join the “1,000 Digital Villages” initiative to integrate value chains of agriculture with tourism.

COVID-19 Added to Unique Challenges

The event today, organized by FAO Liaison Office in Brussels, aimed to highlight the often unique needs of SIDS, due to their geographic situation, limited arable lands and notable reliance on food imports.

Located all over the globe, SIDS and their 60 million inhabitants share similar sustainable development challenges. Nearly all SIDS import 60 percent of their food, some more than 80 percent, making them vulnerable to disruptions in supply chains, international trade and tourism posed by COVID-19. The pandemic also impacts remittances and jobs. While many SIDS are home to nutritious food possibilities, higher costs for energy, transport and communication have curbed opportunities for private-sector development to stimulate domestic food production.

A segment of today’s event focused on FAO’s work in Papua New Guinea.

FAO is the lead UN agency for “Support to Rural Entrepreneurship and Trade in Papua New Guinea” (STREIT PNG), which is the European Union’s largest grant-funded programme in the Pacific sub-region. The European Union is a major resource partner for FAO’s work in the SIDS.

The project, focused on women, youth and climate change, targets a sustainable increase in the local production of cocoa, vanilla and fisheries by strengthening and improving the efficiency of value-chains.

FAO recently teamed up with Paradise Foods Ltd, Papua New Guinea’s oldest food manufacturing company, in an innovative partnership aimed at harnessing the local private sector. Paradise Foods manufactures cocoa, exclusively sourced from local smallholders, into fine chocolates for national and export markets.

James Rice, the company’s chief executive officer, thanked FAO for its support of local farmers whose output Paradise Foods commits to buy. “It’s family-farmed, it’s organic, it’s fair trade, it’s sustainable, and best of all it’s repeatable in other island states,” he said.

“Exchanges like today’s are essential for identifying key areas for concrete, innovative and coordinated action, and to reinvigorate partnerships and mobilize resources to support countries with similar challenges” said Angélica María Jácome Daza, Director of the FAO Office of SIDS, LDCs and LLDCs (OSL).

Today’s events also heard from Flavien Joubert, Agriculture, Climate Change and Environment Minister for the Seychelles; Saboto Cesar, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Transformation for St. Vincent and the Grenadines and current Chair of CARICOM; Jestas Abuo Nyamanga, Chair of the Committee of Ambassadors, Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS); Zoritsa Urosevic, Director of the Institutional Relations and Partnerships Department of the UN’s World Tourism Organization (UNWTO); Stéphane Bijoux, Member of the European Parliament; and Jean-Louis Ville, Acting Director for Asia, Central Asia, Middle East/Gulf and Pacific of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Cooperation and Development (DG DEVCO).

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