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2. A formal ceremony was held to mark the official opening of the Sixth Meeting of the FAO South West Pacific Ministers for Agriculture. Ministers and Representatives from the South West Pacific member countries as well as Government dignitaries were accorded the traditional welcome of “turou” on arrival at the ceremony.

3. Following the prayer of devotion, the Minister for Agriculture of the Cook Islands, Honourable Tupou Faireka formally welcomed all delegates and observers. He extended a special welcome to the Director-General of FAO and to all Ministers and country Representatives. He stated that the Government and the people of the Cook Islands were very pleased to host the Sixth Meeting, the first to be held in the Cook Islands. At the end of his welcome remarks, he presented a gift for the Director-General.

4. After reciprocating with a gift presented to the Government of the Cook Islands which was received by the Minister for Agriculture, the Director-General of FAO, Dr Jacques Diouf delivered the Keynote Address. He stated that he was greatly honoured to address the meeting which, since the inauguration of the FAO Sub-Regional Office for the Pacific Islands in 1996, countries had decided to convene on a biennial basis with a view to strengthening the partnership between FAO and the Pacific. He added that the meeting also assisted FAO in recognizing the challenges faced by its island member countries in the South West Pacific that deserved special attention from FAO and its partners.

5. The Director-General stated that the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) countries were diverse in many respects, but shared common constraints that impede the achievement of a balanced economic growth and sustainable food security at both the national and household levels. He noted that agriculture was the dominant productive sector of most PIF countries, as the major food source and it accounted for 20 - 40 per cent of GDP, over 50 per cent of export and 40-80 per cent of employment. However, the export sector in most countries comprised a narrow range of primarily agricultural commodities, weak market systems and linkages, and was vulnerable to changes in international trading conditions. As such, there was a need for diversification away from the narrow base of traditional commodities.

6. In regards to the Regional Programme for Food Security (RPFS) for the Pacific, the Director-General stated that it was designed in 2002 to enable the Pacific Island Countries to increase efficiency and sustainability of agriculture, to improve food security and health, to facilitate trade in agricultural products and decrease impact of natural disasters. Today, the overall goal was to expand its current scope to improve the security situation of the PIF countries by increasing the availability and access to adequate quantities of safe food products. He added that support from regional economic organizations had facilitated the smooth implementation of the project, which was also benefiting significantly from technical assistance provided by the People’s Republic of China and the Philippines under the South-South Cooperation framework, which was considered an integral part of the project. In addition, the programme provided for consultants to be recruited to provide assistance in the areas of food quality and safety in particular for adapting relevant legislations and regulations, strengthening the institutions, training their staff and supplying the scientific equipment for the tests and analyses. Further, it promoted complementarity with other initiatives such as the European Union (EU)-funded “Development of Sustainable Agriculture Programme” and the “Regional Trade Facilitation Programme” supported by Australia and New Zealand.

7. The Director-General pointed out that while a number of governments had implemented food security programmes and other remedial measures, it was clear that further interventions were required to help alleviate the problems faced by smallholder farm households and rural communities. He considered that food insecurity in the region remained a challenge and FAO with the experience and expertise of its member states could give advice for the creation of an adequate environment aimed at ensuring access to food for the poor.

8. The Director-General advised that FAO was convening a Roundtable on Food Security and Sustainable Development in Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) during the FAO Council in November this year. The Roundtable will review the progress made in implementing the decisions of the last Ministerial Meeting and the Mauritius Summit, and chart the path for mobilizing the international community for accelerating the programme and projects relevant to agriculture and food security.

9. He explained that FAO established the Trust Fund for Food Security and Food Safety with an initial target of US$500 million to finance projects and activities aimed at contributing to the achievement of the first Millennium Development Goal of food security and poverty alleviation. He further explained that it was within this context that FAO, with the Italian Government’s contribution to the Trust Fund, launched the RPFS for the Pacific, which was acting as a catalyst for the mobilization of further funding and donor support for the expansion phase of the programme from 2006-2010, estimated at some US$72 million. To this effect, and in order to envisage the mobilization of more resources, the Director-General recalled the Summit of Heads of State and Government of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries in Maputo in June 2004 where participants adopted a declaration reaffirming agriculture as the priority sector on which to base economic and social development.

10. The Director-General concluded by saying that FAO will continue to recognize the SIDS including the Pacific countries, as a special case for sustainable development and food security, and will ensure that their special needs and priorities were addressed, within the limit of available resources. He then expressed his best wishes for a successful meeting adding that he was looking forward to learn of the outcome of the deliberations. A copy of the Director-General’s speech is attached as Annex B.

11. The Prime Minister of the Cook Islands, Honourable Jim Marurai delivered the opening address. He extended a warm welcome to Ministers and Delegates from overseas and acknowledged the presence of local dignitaries. He also extended a special welcome to the Director-General, the Sub-Regional Representative and staff of the FAO and thanked them for the assistance and support in the preparation and organization for the meeting.

12. The Prime Minister stated that FAO had been a very active and productive development partner and that through FAO’s initiatives and in collaboration with member countries, programmes had been implemented in fisheries, forestry, livestock, food processing, plant protection, policy and planning, marketing, atoll cultivation and many more. He added that Cook Islands had benefited immensely from those programmes over the past 23 years since it became a member of FAO in 1982. He pointed out that even now there were ongoing programmes funded by FAO in the Cook Islands, and no doubt, the same could be said for the other countries present.

13. The Prime Minister stated that the rural sector had been regarded by the present as well as the previous government as being critical to the sustainable development of the country’s economy in terms of crop and livestock production and fishing. He added that the watershed years of the country’s reform in the mid 1990s underpinned the importance of those sectors in formulating national priorities. Furthermore, with almost 70 per cent of all households in the Cook Islands still very much engaged in agriculture, livestock and fishing, the rural sector would continue to be an area of importance when it came to development planning and resource allocation.

14. Referring to the unprecedented event earlier in the year when five cyclones visited the Cook Islands within a period of one month, resulting in considerable damage to the land-based rural sector, the Prime Minister stated that farmers had already commenced the necessary rehabilitation work without waiting for outside assistance. This gave a clear indication of the importance of the rural sector as a source of livelihood for the people of the Cook Islands. He expressed appreciation for those who had so far provided assistance towards rehabilitation and added that the Cook Islands was looking forward to working closely with development partners on rural-based development programmes.

15. The Prime Minister concluded by wishing the meeting constructive and fruitful deliberations and all delegates a happy and enjoyable stay in the Cook Islands. He then declared the meeting officially open. A copy of the Prime Minister’s speech is attached as Annex C.

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