27. At the invitation of the Chair, the Sub-Regional Representative referred Ministers to paper SWPM/CKI/3.0(Rev1), which provided an overview of the activities of FAO in the Pacific as well as achievements and challenges faced over the past years. He then highlighted some of the key activities and issues discussed in the paper through a brief PowerPoint presentation.
28. In his presentation, the Sub-Regional Representative stated that FAO was established in 1945 and was the largest specialized agency of the United Nations (UN). FAO underwent a process of decentralization beginning in 1994 in order to bring the Organizations technical and operational expertise closer to the stakeholders; to reduce costs; and make the best use of national capacities. As a result of the decentralization, regional offices were further strengthened and five Sub-Regional Offices were established across the world during 1996 - 1998, including the Sub-Regional Office for the Pacific, more commonly known in FAO as SAPA. Opened in Apia, Samoa in 1996, SAPA was being headed by the Sub-Regional Representative for the Pacific and supported by a multidisciplinary team covering Agriculture Policy, Farming Systems Development & Marketing, Fisheries, Food & Nutrition, Forest Management, Plant Protection, as well as two Associate Professional Officers (APOs) in the areas of Fisheries Management and Trade Policy. The office was also being supported by an Administrative and Finance Unit.
29. In terms of the key role of SAPA, the Sub-Regional Representative stated that it was to ensure that FAO assistance was readily available to member countries in the Pacific region. He also pointed out that while member countries were able to raise issues of national concern at the FAO Conference, the ultimate decision making body of the organization, the biennial meetings of the South West Pacific Ministers for Agriculture provided an important additional avenue for countries of the region to raise issues of national and regional concern and for providing guidance on priority areas for FAO assistance.
30. Reflecting on the main accomplishments of FAO in the Pacific over the last 8 years, the Sub-Regional Representative stated that there had been an increase in FAO assistance to the region including TCP Projects, Trust Fund Projects, Telefood Projects, country missions, consultancies and capacity building activities. He drew the attention of the meeting to the fact that there had been a decision by FAO to withhold the funding of any new Telefood project during 2003 - 2004 until countries were able to catch up on reporting requirements.
31. In regards to capacity building, FAO had given emphasis to national level activities as opposed to regional meetings, wherever possible, to avoid drawing staff away from their work more than needed. In terms of partnership and collaboration, FAO SAPA had increased partnerships with regional organizations such as the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS), the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the University of the South Pacific (USP), as well as international organizations and other UN agencies including UNDP, WHO, IFAD and the Commonwealth Secretariat.
32. The Sub-Regional Representative stated that ongoing efforts were being made to assess the impact of FAO activities in the region. This included case studies, which had recently been conducted in Samoa, Fiji and Vanuatu, and ex-post evaluation of projects being implemented. He added that SAPA had recently launched a Pacific friendly website (www.FAOPacific.ws) focusing on Pacific issues and activities, where all end-of-project evaluation reports and study reports could be accessed and encouraged countries to visit this information source.
33. In terms of the key challenges faced by the region, the Sub-Regional Representative stated that these included operational difficulties, limited capacity/human resources, lack of communication among interested parties, lack of capacity to absorb assistance provided, communication difficulties, lack of clear commitment to ensure sustainability of activities, over-commitment of limited resources, and lack of an agreed framework at national levels to identify country priorities. In order to overcome these constraints FAO had taken appropriate steps, including the appointment of FAO National Correspondents in all countries except in Tuvalu and Federated States of Micronesia. In addition, letters to Ministers were being sent out at the end of each year, which provided an update on FAO activities in their respective countries during the year. Also, a Country Programme Officer (CPO) had been out-posted from the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific to SAPA, in an effort to improve project deliveries and operations. Furthermore, FAO was considering the possibility of attachment of Government Officials to SAPA, particularly from new member countries to give them better insight into FAOs operations.
34. The Sub-Regional Representative also advised that regular visits to member countries by the SRR/FAOR, the Administrative Officer and by technical officers were also designed to help overcome constraints and bring FAO closer to its member countries. He added that about 80 per cent of resources for staff were allocated to travel to countries to maintain close contact and to gain a better understanding of their priority needs. Also, attendance at regional and international meetings by the technical officers was only supported if they had been requested to act as resource persons or where it was considered to be of absolute necessity.
35. Emergency assistance was also being provided by FAO to meet a country's urgent and immediate needs arising from disasters which had adversely affected its food and agricultural situation. It was important for countries to note that requests for emergency assistance must be submitted within 3 months after the disaster had struck and that the duration of any emergency assistance project was limited to 12 months.
36. In an effort to facilitate and enhance trade, FAO had organized seven Annual Roundtable Meetings for PICs on WTO Agreement Provisions since 1998, and had provided both technical and financial support for the establishment of an internationally accredited regional food control laboratory at the Institute of Applied Science of the USP in Suva, Fiji. Also, a regional study was conducted in 2003 on the Implications of WTO Membership for Pacific Island Countries on Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fishery sectors.
37. The New Zealand Associate Minister of Agriculture and Minister for Rural Affairs, Honourable Damien O'Connor commended FAO for the activities carried out and the achievements made. He expressed endorsement of the focus of its work particularly the ongoing evaluation of projects, trade facilitation and enhancement, promotion of partnerships and the focus on other areas such as fisheries and forestry.
38. The Minister from Niue thanked FAO for the presentation and expressed appreciation for the assistance provided after Cyclone Heta. He stated that some difficulties were experienced relating to procedures, especially the three quote system which proved difficult in small countries with a limited number of suppliers. He noted that the emergency assistance project had gone beyond 12 months and requested FAO for further extension to allow Niue to fully implement the project. He expressed full support to the National Correspondent system, although there had recently been a high turnover of staff holding the position.
39. The Representative from Papua New Guinea, Mr Matthewwela Kanua, Secretary for Agriculture and Livestock acknowledged with appreciation the report of the Sub-Regional Representative which he found to be very informative. He stated that in general, support to agriculture in Papua New Guinea had increased, part of which had been from FAO and was greatly appreciated. He expressed disappointment, however, that the assistance to the potato industry did not eventuate.
40. The Minister from Kiribati also expressed appreciation for the presentation which he noted had focused largely on agriculture. He reiterated the importance of fisheries and its contribution to the livelihoods and the economies of small atoll countries like Kiribati, Tuvalu, Marshall Islands and others and requested that both agriculture and fisheries be accorded equal importance by FAO and its activities in the region, for food security purposes.
41. The Minister from Nauru, Honourable Frederick Pitcher also commended FAO for the informative report on its activities and achievements during the past years and expressed endorsement for the broad areas of focus of its work in the region particularly on regional collaboration, especially with the Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) in relation to fisheries management. He advised that currently Nauru had only one small project on plant protection but was currently in the process of developing project proposals in other areas.
42. The Representative from Fiji, Mr Sakiusa Tubuna, Acting Chief Economist of the Ministry of Agriculture, Sugar and Land Resettlement also thanked the Sub-Regional Representative for his presentation which highlighted the achievements made over the past 2 years, and expressed thanks to FAO for all the assistance that had been made available to Fiji, in particular the emergency assistance following Cyclone Ami in 2003. Appreciation was further expressed for the partnership and collaboration with other regional partners to strengthen Fijis resolve to address food security and rural development issues in the region. He recommended that FAO further strengthen these types of partnership particularly with the funding mechanisms that were currently available at the multilateral level that could benefit the countries in the region. He highlighted the Global Environmental Facility, as an example, which had funding assistance programme under broad thematic areas such as land degradation, seawater salinity and other environmental problems affecting agricultural production. He further recommended that FAO seek and facilitate the process of accessing funds for member countries from other programmes and projects that were directly linked to agricultural production.
43. The Representative from Samoa, Seumanutafa Malaki Iakopo, Chief Executive Officer for Agriculture and Fisheries conveyed the apology of the Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries for being unable to attend the meeting. He then expressed Samoas appreciation of the achievements made and endorsed the broad areas of focus particularly capacity building. He noted the need to optimize the benefits from complementary projects such as the EU-funded Development of Sustainable Agriculture Programme (DSAP) currently being implemented by SPC and the RPFS. He stressed the need to carefully assess local situation and the available capacity and resources when designing projects to ensure their successful implementation.
44. The Minister from the Solomon Islands, Honourable Enele Kwanairara expressed appreciation for the report of the Sub-Regional Representative and stated that the areas of focus for FAO activities in the region were broadly endorsed. He thanked FAO for the assistance provided to the Solomon Islands which was most welcome particularly at a time when the country needed to get back on track after the ethnic tension.
45. The Minister from Tuvalu, after expressing appreciation for the report by FAO on its activities and achievements, requested FAO to speed up the process to have in place a National Correspondent at the earliest opportunity. He expressed support for the point raised by Kiribati for more emphasis on fisheries-related projects.
46. The Representative from Tonga, Mr Haniteli Faanunu, Director of Agriculture and Food conveyed the sincere apology of his Minister for being unable to attend the meeting. He acknowledged the work done and assistance provided by FAO but expressed concern over the increasing use by FAO of officers of the Ministry which had caused disruption to its work programme and overall performance. In reference to the recruitment of the technicians under the South-South Cooperation (SSC), the Representative from Tonga requested that priority attention be given to ensure the recruitment and dispatch of the remaining technician at the earliest opportunity. He stated that language barrier had been a major obstacle in regards to the fielded technicians and suggested that FAO consider providing intensive language training courses for the technicians in order to improve communications with local staff and farmers.
47. The Sub-Regional Representative, in response to some of the issues raised by countries, explained that while the presentation appeared to have focused on agriculture, it was by no means an indication that fisheries was being given low priority. He pointed out that within the organizational structure of the FAO, Fisheries was a separate department reflecting the importance attached to it by the organization. He added that most of the assistance provided to member countries were being channeled through national initiatives identified by the countries themselves and the assistance provided by FAO was in response to those priorities. He highlighted, as an example, the Italian-funded project in support of the RPFS which was designed to facilitate the implementation of priority needs of the participating countries. It was noted, however, that projects received so far from countries were mainly on agriculture and livestock production with very little request for the development of fisheries.
48. In response to the issue raised by Tonga relating to the language barrier for SSC technicians, the Sub-Regional Representative advised that the point made was noted, however, it should also be noted that the technicians were chosen based on their technical expertise rather than their language skills. He also acknowledged the need for language training to facilitate communications with rural farmers, and reminded the countries that the technicians were meant to be working in the field rather than in an office. He stated that FAO will facilitate everything possible to ensure the SSC programme was operating successfully. He clarified that in terms of the procedures for the recruitment of the SSC experts and technicians, nominations received from the Peoples Republic of China and the Philippines were subject to the assessment of FAO, which could request for further nominations if considered necessary. He assured the meeting that FAO will continue to collaborate with regional and international organizations.
49. Referring to the point raised by Tuvalu relating to the appointment of the National Correspondent, the Sub-Regional Representative drew the attention of the meeting to the procedural requirement for at least three candidates to be submitted to FAO before it could proceed with the selection of the most suitable candidate.
50. In summing up the discussions, the Chair reiterated the usefulness of the information provided relating to the activities and achievements of FAO in the region and noted in particular the increasing level of assistance to the region since the inauguration of the Sub-Regional Office in Apia in 1996. He also noted the endorsement of the broad areas of focus of FAO in the region which included trade facilitation and building of national capacities through technical assistance, advice and training. He underscored the need for increased assistance and involvement of FAO in the development of fisheries in the region in recognition of its importance as a source of food and livelihood for the Pacific island countries.