Welcome, on behalf of the Director-General of FAO, to the Technical Consultation of South Pacific Small Island Developing States on Sustainable Development in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. I am particularly impressed with the expertise and calibre of participants present in this room, which augurs well for a successful Consultation.
Emerging interest for the sustainable development of small island countries
The Inter-regional Conference of Small Island Countries on Sustainable Development and Environment in Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, held (at ministerial level) by FAO in Barbados, 7-10 April 1992, created a common position on matters of interest to small islands which was expressed at the Earth Summit through the Bridgetown Declaration.
Since UNCED, neglect by the international community of the special needs of small island countries in sustainable development programmes was redressed by holding the UN Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States in Barbados, (25 April-6 May 1994). This Conference endorsed the Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. Progress in the implementation of this Programme was in fact reported a few days ago (24 April) at the fourth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD) in New York (18 April-3 May 1996). Progress in the implementation of the UN Programme of Action on coastal area management, tourism, energy, disasters, telecommunications, and air and maritime transport was reported. Among the major additional findings (since 1994) and actions recommended were the need for integrated approaches to the management of natural resources, strengthened intersectoral linkages (for example, benefits from the tourism sector are weakened by leakages through imports), the potential of agricultural residues in providing additional sources of energy, the need to incorporate sustainable development activities into the national planning process, and to involve traditional leaders into development policies and practices. Issues relating to SIDS Exclusive Economic Zones fisheries were also reported at the CSD, within the reporting on Chapter 17 of Agenda 21. You may be aware that FAO is presently chairing the UN Administrative and Coordinating Committee/Sub-Committee on Oceans, which is the Task Manager for Chapter 17.
Sustainability in the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors
The past traditional model of sustainable agriculturally-based South Pacific societies has been modified by colonialism and trade which introduced patterns of development, technologies and consumption which changed traditional economies based on self-sufficiency to dependence on foreign markets (and their fluctuations) as well as use of natural resources which are increasingly degraded and over-exploited for foreign exchange. In addition, urbanization and tertiary sector development are more and more marginalizing the primary sector which has become far less profitable, but none-the-less crucial for food security. As a result, many islands are now net importers of food, wood and even fish, the process of depletion of natural resources and loss of ecosystems is accelerated, and rural societies are forced to migrate in search of better livelihoods.
Revitalizing the backbone of Pacific island economies means finding ways to meet the challenges inhibiting the sustainable development of agriculture, forestry and fisheries to achieve the well-being of island societies and their future generations. Small islands not only need policy reforms, technologies, and capacity-building related to the primary sector, but also creative solutions adapted to resource constraints as well as economic, social and cultural conditions.
FAO and South Pacific Small Island Developing States
In spite of FAO's financial constraints, the Director-General of FAO established a Sub-regional Office for the Pacific Islands (SAPA) as a part of the Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (RAP). Under the restructuring plan of the Organization, endorsed by the 27th FAO Conference in 1995, a multi-disciplinary technical team is to be assembled to serve the specific requirements of the South Pacific islands. The team consists of technical officers in agricultural policy, integrated natural resources management, farming systems, marketing, plant protection, forest resources and fisheries. This field structure addresses the objective of closer relevance of activities in relation to local developmental problems and more intensive partnerships with local institutions. The establishment of the Sub-regional Office, a key element in the Director-General's decentralization programme, is intended to propel participatory-driven sustainable agriculture and rural development in the South Pacific.
In order to raise awareness and political will in the highest ranks, as well as in the public, on the unacceptability of continued food insecurity and the need for global commitment and action to solve the problem, the Director-General of FAO is proposing a World Food Summit to take place in Rome, November 1996. In preparation of this Summit, a Conference for Asia and the Pacific will be held in this same venue in Apia, next week (14-18 May 1996). Governments will be providing an overview of national food security situations, their views on the World Food Summit, and especially the regional perspective regarding the World Food Summit Policy Statement and Plan of Action.
The Technical Consultation
When the FAO Inter-regional Conference of Small Island Countries was held in Barbados in 1992, its participating ministers recommended that "small island countries seek opportunities to meet again, if possible in the South Pacific, in the near future with a view to implementing the programme areas of Agenda 21 to be agreed at UNCED". Considering that FAO had since established two Sub-regional Offices for islands in the Pacific and Caribbean respectively, it was felt more appropriate to convene two follow-up technical meetings, specific to each of the sub-regions.
This Consultation is therefore being held today for the South Pacific, at the invitation of the Government of Samoa which has generously offered to host it. The Government of Australia kindly accepted to fund a good part of this meeting and the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA Netherlands) has funded the travel of a few resource persons from the Caribbean islands and are here with us today. On behalf of the Director-General of FAO, I wish to thank the Governments of Samoa and Australia, and CTA for their interest and support.
This Consultation is also one of the major steps taken by FAO and SPREP in relation to the UN Global Conference Programme of Action on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States. This Programme makes reference to the efforts made by FAO in pursuing sustainable development in agriculture, forestry and fisheries, but does not include a specific chapter on agriculture. It is therefore felt appropriate to give an opportunity to the agricultural sector to develop its specific agenda, tailored to South Pacific needs and conditions, and thereby contribute to a vital component of the overall sustainability equation.
This Consultation is expected to develop a set of common views and to identify proposals for action which are of particular interest to the agriculture, forestry and fisheries sector, including cooperative arrangements for their implementation. Considering foreign competition on the world market and decreasing prices for some of the major Pacific commodities (such as copra, coconut oil, cocoa, and bananas) this sector may not be economically competitive, but for obvious environmental and social reasons, need to be maintained and encouraged, for the benefit of islanders' present and future generations.
In particular, your guidance is sought on priorities and specific projects which FAO should address in its future activities in the South Pacific, through the newly established Sub-regional Office. As a specialized agency of the United Nations, FAO has a long tradition in providing technical assistance to its member Nations, through provision of information, policy advice and projects' implementation. Taking into account the limited human, institutional, and financial resources available to small islands, this Consultation is expected to generate ideas which can make the best use of limited collective resources for the translation of sustainable development principles into concrete actions.
On behalf of the Director-General, I renew our thanks to the host country, to the donors, and wish you every success in your deliberations.