Ladies and Gentlemen
I am happy to be present on the occasion of the opening of this four-day Technical Consultation of the South Pacific Small Island Developing States on Sustainable Development in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
All of you delegates attending the Consultation are from the countries of the Pacific and you will be discussing policies and programmes which will be the basis of a Plan of Action on Sustainable Development of Pacific Small Island Developing States which will help in the implementation of UNCED Agenda 21 and other Earth Summit Agreements.
It is our privilege and pleasure, as a country, to be hosting this Consultation in Samoa. This is our first meeting in the South Pacific, and the proposed agenda comprises very important issues of common interest to all of our countries. These are all high priority issues in our development agenda in the fields of agriculture, forestry and fisheries. To develop these areas without concern of our legacy to future generations of our Peoples, is to be irresponsible in terms of our development objectives.
Samoa has come a long way in the development of agriculture, forestry and fisheries in the last 10-15 years; however the gains that we made were almost totally lost due to the devastation caused by cyclones Ofa and Val in 1990 and 1991. In addition, the introduction of Taro Leaf Blight (TLB) in 1993 destroyed our main export commodity, taro. This was equal in devastation to the cyclones, although thanks to the hard work of our people, and with the assistance of bonus schemes, our recovery is almost complete at this point.
I note in the agenda that one of the main topics to be discussed is the sustainable management of natural resources. Whatever the outcome of your deliberations on this agenda item, it is most important that you implement the recommendations that this Consultation agrees on because implementation is always more important than planning action.
It is also interesting to note that the Consultation will address the matter of diversification of primary production. In Samoa we take a great interest in the outcome of this discussion. This is particularly so since, as I mentioned, our main staple and income earner, taro, was devastated by TLB which entered Samoa from Honolulu via American Samoa in 1993.
The income that most of our rural population has enjoyed over the years has been lost, and some other potential crops are being sought, to allow our farmers to diversity. Research is being carried out to help with the situation but it is envisaged that this may still take time. We look forward to the regional and international community assisting us in our efforts.
It is true that if you have the best land, the best farmers, and the best of everything - you should produce the best crops. But what about the farmer who does not have access to such inputs? Each area is unique, with their unique problems. This applies to our countries, and areas within our countries. These various problems all need to be thoroughly assessed and resolved if farming is to remain viable and rewarding. As Nobel Laureate Theodore Schultz said - "All farmers are efficient within their particular production possibility frontiers".
I know that many of these problems and constraints will be dealt with in your meeting. Agricultural exports in all of our countries are essential for foreign exchange earnings, rural subsistence incomes, and employment. However, it is not always easy to export agricultural produce from one country to another, even within our Pacific region. Some of the reasons are valid, others not so valid. Samoa has signed quarantine agreements with Fiji for our kava and copra exports, and with New Zealand for our banana exports. There is still a lot of scope for intra-regional cooperation. You should be concerned with discussions to determine what improvements can be made to facilitate the export of agricultural produce.
Samoa has just sought to revitalize its cattle industry with two large cattle shipments from Queensland, Australia in the last four years. One of the problems in the development of the livestock industry is lack of appropriate animal feed. Virtually all our countries in the region are heavily dependent on the imports of livestock products. Samoa still continues to import large quantities of dressed chickens and chicken parts, other meats, eggs and dairy products. This situation applies to other countries represented here in this Consultation, although the actual types of livestock products and levels of imports, differ in each case. This high import dependence in food products, particularly the livestock industry, obviously has serious implications in terms of our rather fragile economies. Consequently, there is now, more than ever before, an urgent need to try to reverse this trend. We need to produce as much of the livestock products we need for local consumption. It is because of this desired objective, that the important issue of livestock feeds becomes an all important consideration.
Such issues cannot be ignored if sustainability of our agricultural development is to remain the priority it must be. Apart from the technical aspects of the Consultation, which will occupy your time for the next four days, I do hope that those of you who come from overseas, will be able to find time to enjoy our traditional Polynesian hospitality, and to visit some of the historic and scenic sites within our country.
It is now my honour and privilege to declare this Technical Consultation, officially opened.
Note by the Secretariat
The speech of the Minister expanded considerably on this written one and the most salient issues included: reference to corruption in government agencies which should be addressed in the context of a reformed and healthier public sector; the difficulty of pursuing sustainability if people's livelihoods are not secured; the lack of strong natural resources conservation traditions in the Pacific as compared to Caribbean islands; caution needed in formulating new legislations for land resources in order not to compromise the principles of community sovereignty for inherited land; and the need for plans of actions to be bound by timeframes that allow monitoring of their implementation.