THE NUMEROUS SMALL AND relatively isolated islands and atolls that span the Pacific Ocean to constitute the 22 countries of the South Pacific increasingly face the need to develop strategies that will allow them to participate in and benefit from the market-based economies and the participatory democracy that are prevalent today. This paper looks at possible strategies that could be adopted by the Pacific region to allow it to survive the new market-based economy.
Before 1990, the rural sector in the Pacific region faced problems of geographic dispersion and isolation, communications and transportation, dependency on limited agricultural products and consequent vulnerability to world market prices, vulnerability to natural disasters such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tidal waves and to the protectionist policies that existed in the South Pacific region. There have recently been political and economic changes including changes of governments in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, deregulation and privatization, rise in cries for independence from existing colonial powers, introduction of new policies and legislation, and introduction of 'new actors' into the Pacific arena.
These recent political and economic changes have led to a decrease in productivity of traditional export crops such as coconuts in Vanuatu, Tonga, Western Samoa, Solomon Islands, Marshall Islands and Fiji. The effect of this decreased productivity and the increasing disparity between rural and urban income resulted in an increase in rural to urban drift in the Pacific, which has exacerbated the problem of urban squatters in the cities, particularly in Papua New Guinea and Fiji.
The benefits of this change in the global market lie principally in the challenge for countries in the region to work together in order to maximize future opportunities. Fiji has attempted to improve efficiency and productivity by deregulation and privatization, as have Tonga, Western Samoa and Papua New Guinea. WWF is helping rural communities to plan and manage their resources in the Solomon Islands. The Native Land Trust Board, a statutory organization that is unique in the Pacific and the world, administers the land that is 'owned' by the indigenous people of Fiji. The existing constraints of the agricultural and rural sectors in the region include lack of human resources, land tenure problems, transport and communication difficulties, quarantine problems, lack of research facilities and inadequate technological resources. Regional cooperation, privatization, expansion of the agriculture sector by developing niche products, assistance in developing rural credit schemes for women, and assistance in strengthening quarantine operations could all help improve the agriculture sector. The outlook is positive, providing the region unites and works together for its common good, encourages the private sector - i.e. the farmers and fishermen - to take the lead in developing the agricultural sector, and capitalizes on the NGOs that currently exist in the region.