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Kia Orana and greetings to:

I’d like to take this opportunity to extend a special Kia Orana to our friends from overseas:

I am delighted to welcome you all to the Cook Islands on this occasion of the 6th South-West Pacific Ministers for Agriculture Meeting, the first of its kind to be held in the Cook Islands. In fact, I am pleased to say to many of you: ‘Welcome back to the Cook Islands’.

FAO has certainly been a very active and productive development partner in the region. Through FAO’s initiatives and in collaboration with the member countries, programmes have been implemented in fisheries, forestry, livestock, food processing, horticulture, plant protection, policy and planning, atoll cultivation, plant propagation, and many more.

The Cook Islands has benefited immensely from a lot of these programmes over the past 23 years since it became an FAO member in 1982. Even now, there are on-going programmes funded by FAO in the Cook Islands. No doubt the same can be said by the individual countries represented here today.

For what has been achieved over the years of close cooperation, we say thank you very much to FAO for the tremendous efforts targeted at ensuring sustainable food production systems for both current and future generations.

My Government, and previous ones for that matter, have indeed regarded the rural sector in terms of crop and livestock production, and fishing, as being critical to the sustainable development of the country’s economy.

The watershed years of our reforms in the mid-1990s underpinned the importance of these sectors in formulating national priorities.

And with almost 70% of all households in the Cook Islands still very much engaged in agriculture, livestock and fishing, our rural sector will continue to be an area of emphasis when it comes to development planning and resource allocation.

As a result of an unprecedented five cyclones earlier in the year, there was considerable damage to our land-based rural sector. However, farmers have already commenced the necessary rehabilitation work without waiting for outside assistance.

We thank those who have so far came to the rescue, and look forward to working closely with our partners in the region on rural-based development programmes.

Distinguished delegates, I sincerely hope that your deliberations over the next couple of days will be constructive and fruitful for the sake of our respective countries’ populations - most of whom still depend on the rural sector for their livelihood.

I do hope that you will enjoy your short stay on Rarotonga.

On this note, I am honoured and very pleased to declare the 6th South-West Pacific Ministers of Agriculture Meeting officially open.

Thank you and Kia Manuia.

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