Solutions to food insecurity high on agenda of Small Island Developing States meeting

Development and aid, Food and agriculture, Featured

Food security and nutrition

Increasing agricultural production and consumption of nutritious food are top priorities in small island developing states in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Central Food Market, Apia, Samoa. Credit: Catherine Wilson / IPS

CANBERRA, Australia, August 23, 2021 (IPS) – The urgency of finding solutions to the most pressing development challenges of our time has increased as the Covid-19 pandemic threatens to reverse the global momentum of recent years towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (ODD). And Small Island Developing States (SIDS), with their physical remoteness, limited lands and resources, and reliance on trade and tourism, are facing increasing difficulties caused by border closures and falling populations. savings.

Strengthening food security and better nutrition, which falls under SDG 2, is a priority in the current crisis and an imperative for more widespread success in raising living standards and economic growth. In 2019, the year before the COVID-19 outbreak, the Pacific Islands had made little progress on this goal. From now on, the sub-region will be at the center of a high-level virtual international conference, the SIDS Solutions Forum, on August 30 and 31.

The forum initiative is driven by the belief that each SIDS already has many solutions and innovations that are either local or generated from similar situations elsewhere, and which have the potential to be scaled up. With the increase in internet access, there are other opportunities for innovation and knowledge sharing

Takayuki Hagiwara, FAO

“The forum initiative is driven by the belief that every SIDS already has many solutions and innovations that are either local or generated from similar situations elsewhere, and which have the potential to be scaled up. With increasing access to the Internet, there are further opportunities for innovation and knowledge sharing, ”Takayuki Hagiwara, regional program manager at the United Nations Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. food and agriculture (FAO) in Bangkok, says IPS.

The two-day event, co-hosted by FAO and the Fijian government, will bring together government leaders, policy makers, non-governmental organizations, private sector leaders, farmers and community representatives to explore how “Digitization and innovation” can accelerate -tracking gains in sustainable agriculture, food, nutrition, environment and health in island states.

Many of the issues to be discussed are not new. For example, declining agricultural production and low levels of food processing and value addition have been problems for years. And the people of the Pacific Islands have suffered for generations from lack of food as a result of natural disasters, such as cyclones and earthquakes. In 2019, FAO reported that 5.9 million people in Oceania, or 50 percent of the region’s population of around 11.9 million, were moderately to severe food insecure. Meanwhile, 20 percent of the people of the Pacific and 16 percent of the Caribbean were undernourished.

Initiatives have already started at the national level. In the Cook Islands, the government launched the SMART Agritech program in July last year as part of the country’s response to some of these issues.

“Targeting commercial farmers and agribusinesses, the objective of the program was to encourage investment in smart technology and processes to improve yield, efficiency and profitability… The program approved a range of applications, in particular the production of honey, the creation of temperature-controlled greenhouses, aquaponics and the processing of agricultural products. I am excited about the future of this important industry, ”said the Hon. Mark Brown, Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, told IPS.

SIDS represent just under 1% of the world’s population. Among them are the UN Member States Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Singapore, Seychelles, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and Vanuatu.

Experts point out that food insecurity associated with loss of income and reduced availability of affordable food in the Pacific Islands following the pandemic is a major problem. Post-harvest losses of agricultural products are also expected to increase due to disruptions to transport networks, supply chains and inadequate storage options.

The current high rates of malnutrition in SIDS, including undernutrition and obesity, and the crushing burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes, could also worsen. For decades, a growing dependence on imported foods has been accompanied by increased consumption of processed foods and beverages high in sugar. The majority of Pacific and Caribbean countries import more than 60 percent of their food, while a third of adults in the Caribbean are obese and 75 percent of all adult deaths in the Pacific are due to NCDs, reports the FAO.

Forum hosts believe that indigenous and introduced innovative ideas to solve problems at any stage of the value chain, from pre-harvest to market access, can be enhanced and enhanced by digital tools.

“Not only is it relevant, but the focus on ‘digitization and innovation’ at the forum is crucial for the necessary technological transition of the region’s collective effort to improve current agricultural and food systems. and futures, ”said Mani Mua, Plant Health Coordinator, Land Resources Division, Regional Development Organization, Pacific Community, Fiji.

In Papua New Guinea, the use of blockchain technologies, involving RFID (radio frequency) tagging of farmed pigs, which are then monitored via a computer database, ensures the tracing of pork and other food products, a vital process to meet food security. standards. At the same time, a mobile application developed in Fiji allows users to quickly analyze the nutritional value of meals captured on camera. And digital payment platforms, a huge asset for farmers and businesses, are supported by mobile phone providers in Samoa, Fiji and Vanuatu.

But promoting digital solutions has its challenges in countries where infrastructure and connectivity can be poor. While 73% and 49% of people in Antigua and Barbuda and Fiji have Internet access, respectively, this figure drops to 11% in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, and 3.9% in Guinea. -Bissau, according to the World Bank.

“The digital divide is a development challenge in SIDS, but also in many developed countries… FAO is working with governments, the private sector, development partners and communities to pursue a phased approach by leveraging connectivity to improve the livelihoods of those who have access to it. , then associating their success with distant farmers. If digitization helps urban food processors and handlers earn more, it is likely that remote producers will also earn a little more as digital access gradually improves, ”Joseph Nyemah, Head of Food and of nutrition at the FAO sub-regional office for the Pacific in Samoa. , told IPS.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), a key partner in organizing the forum, is also working to guide and implement the Smart Islands initiative, an integrated strategy with governments to improve access to wide affordable band and expand digital services in island countries.

Bringing digital tools to Pacific Island households and businesses will require large-scale investments from donors and international partners. However, David Dawe, FAO senior economist in Bangkok, believes: “A lot of investment should come from the private sector. The pandemic has increased the demand for digital services and expanded their customer base, so these companies should see an opportunity in the current situation. “

During the forum, a digital SIDS Solutions platform will be launched. It will be a virtual space in which stakeholders, from government ministers to local entrepreneurs, can continue to seek out ideas from around the world and gather support and resources for those who successfully match nations and their needs.

Ultimately, “new partnerships will be built and, more importantly, local innovations in SIDS that are not always talked about will be brought to the fore and harnessed to catalyze achievement of the SDGs,” Nyemah said.

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