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1. Introduction

Agriculture, fisheries and forestry have provided for centuries the main source of livelihood for the population of the islands. This sector still represents a chief asset to Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Their sustainable management remains crucial for the future.

During the preparations for the Earth Summit in 1992, FAO realized that small island countries required a special agro-ecological approach in the pursuit of sustainable development. Work in small islands involves consideration of potentials and constraints in the various aspects of development, including:

For this reason, FAO organized the Inter-Regional Conference of Small Island Countries on Sustainable Development and Environment in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Bridgetown, Barbados, 7-10 April 1992. The Barbados Declaration issued by this Conference marked the beginning of an integrated approach to this country group.

The birth, at the Earth Summit, of the Convention on Climate Change further triggered SIDS to face together phenomena which were directly impacting their survival such as sea level rise. The Alliance Of Small Islands States (AOSIS)1 was formed, constituting a major pressure group within G77.

Subsequently, the UN General Assembly decided to convene a Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States in Barbados in 1994, which launched the Barbados Programme of Action for Sustainable Development of Small Islands Developing States (BPOA) or SIDS Agenda 21.

Institutionally, SIDS were born. But the individual SIDS themselves were born thousands of years ago, and, as stated by the Prime Minister of the Republic of Fiji, in his opening address in the Fifth Meeting of FAO South West Pacific Ministers for Agriculture in April 2003: "Well before the arrival of western civilization, we had evolved efficient systems of agricultural production and fisheries that were appropriate for our needs and circumstances. But as our contact and involvement with the larger world increased, we found that the traditional ways were not enough. Development and the cash economy came. There were the challenges of population growth, urbanization, over-exploitation of land and lagoons and threats to the environment. Trade brought imported processed food and produce. These began to replace more wholesome diets, which had sustained us for thousands of years."

In 1996, FAO strengthened its focus on SIDS by establishing two sub-regional offices in Samoa in the Pacific and Barbados in the Caribbean.

In March 1999, FAO organized a Special Ministerial Conference on Agriculture in SIDS to better support the adoption of appropriate national policies and the provision of technical and financial assistance. This Conference resulted in a Ministerial Declaration which led to the adoption, by the 116th Session of the Council, of a Plan of Action on Agriculture in SIDS. This Plan constitutes the basis for coherent interventions by FAO, the international community and SIDS and corrects an inherent weakness of the BPOA which is the lack of emphasis on agriculture, fisheries and forestry, all of which are vital to the economies and livelihood of the people of SIDS. This Plan forms an integral part of the UN efforts towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and fits within the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI).

The different priority areas identified in the Plan of Action on Agriculture in SIDS are the following:

FAO enjoys a long history of partnership with SIDS2. Over the past two decades, FAO has provided technical assistance to SIDS through 1 300 projects for a totalling US$ 300 million. Since the establishment of the Barbados Programme of Action in 1994, the technical assistance to SIDS amounts to US$ 90 million with a total of 520 projects in 38 SIDS. In addition, FAO has implemented 83 regional projects for a total of US$ 5 million and three interregional projects for a total of US$ 2.8 million. Fifty percent of this assistance was derived from FAO's regular programme for technical assistance; the rest was implemented thanks to trust funds.

In addition to field projects, FAO has continued assisting SIDS through its normative work including the development of international instruments such as the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture as well as global assessments and information systems such as the First State of the World's Animal Genetic Resources, the Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems, the International Alliance Against Hunger and the Anti-Poverty Programme.

Today, new challenges are emerging which need a harmonized approach. Modern tools together with ancient knowledge are required to prepare for the future. The International Conference of SIDS, in Mauritius, August-September 2004, will be the opportunity to put things in perspective, to stop and reflect. Reflect on the achievements of the Barbados Programme of Action ten years later and on a long-term vision. Reflect on the creation of instruments for the well-being of societies, on an economy based on solidarity, on markets at the service of human beings and not otherwise.

The collaboration among SIDS will be the opportunity to show at the level of a group of islands what partnerships and alliances can create. More than 200 such partnerships were launched at the 2002 World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg, close to 20 of which specifically aim to address the challenges facing small islands. In a context of ever-growing dependency and interrelation, SIDS can invent new routes to a sustainable development.

1 AOSIS is an ad hoc coalition of developing countries which shares common objectives on environmental and sustainable development matters, particularly those relating to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Members are small island and low-lying coastal developing countries.

2 SIDS member of FAO include 40 countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Cape Verde, Comoros, the Cook Islands, Cyprus, Dominica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Kiribati, Maldives, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Micronesia Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sao Tome et Principe, Seychelles, the Solomon Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.

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