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FAO pledges to help Pacific Island nations respond to the challenges of climate change, food insecurity and malnutrition, hand in hand, through enhanced partnerships

04/10/2019 Apia, Samoa

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) will work hand in hand with governments and other partners in the Pacific to accelerate improvements to sustainable nutrition sensitive food systems while helping to mitigate the negative effects of climate change on agriculture.

The pledge was made today at a joint meeting of Pacific Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry, as part of the Pacific Week of Agriculture being held in Samoa. The meeting of government ministers was convened jointly by FAO and the Pacific Community (SPC).

Many Pacific island countries, and small island developing states (SIDS) around the world, are disproportionately threatened by climate change and the impacts of severe weather events.  The toll on human lives and livelihoods, as well as the damage to food security, can be overwhelming. Small size and isolation have also led to unhealthy diets though an increasing reliance on imported, processed foods. Many of these foods are high in fat, sugar and salt, leading to a crisis of obesity. The Pacific region is home to all the countries ranked in the top ten highest obesity rates globally, and it has the highest prevalence of diabetes per capita.

“While responding to obesity is a big challenge, the prevalence of stunting in children under five in the Pacific is also a major concern. It is running at almost 40 percent, the highest rate of any subregion in Asia and the Pacific,” said Kundhavi Kadiresan, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific. “Globally, the prevalence of undernourishment is around 17.5 percent in SIDS countries compared to a worldwide average of around 11 percent,” she added in her opening remarks to the Ministers.

Working hand in hand in the Pacific to meet the 2030 deadline

The region has made progress in implementing an action programme on food security and nutrition, but much more will need to be achieved if the Pacific Islands are to meet the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

“This is real progress, but what is still needed is a paradigm shift to accelerate actions and achieve real impact on the nutrition front and in responding to the threats of climate change in the Pacific,” Kadiresan said. “Indeed, just last week, our FAO Director-General outlined a new initiative that matches the least developed SIDS – those with the highest rates of hunger and poverty – together with developed countries to support the former’s development. The “Hand-in-Hand Initiative” will reach out to a wide range of partners including governments, the private sector, global foundations and others.”

The meeting heard how a multi-pronged approach could respond to the twin challenges – one that places modern technology and new innovations into the hands of small scale farmers alongside a back-to-basics approach, rediscovering healthy, locally produced foods that will improve diets and lower the reliance on imported, processed foods.

“Re-invigorating and re-establishing production of some of the healthier and naturally available local foods is a win-win approach. After all, generations of Pacific Islanders who farmed the lands and harvested fish from the sea knew what they were doing! They were providing nutritious foods for their families and maintaining livelihoods that were passed father-to-son, mother-to-daughter, father-to-daughter and so on,” Kadiresan said. “Today we call these food systems and value chains. The names might have changed, but the sensibilities have not.”

Implementing climate-smart agriculture to boost production in the face of steadily rising temperatures and sea level, and increasing adaptive resilience in the face of more frequent natural disasters is another priority.

The meeting also observed a need for more investment in statistics. Pacific Island countries have very scarce data on food insecurity and malnutrition, which hampers efforts to track progress toward achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

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