Rome, Italy, 1-5 March 1999 




1. A Ministerial Conference on Agriculture in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) will be held at FAO Headquarters on 12 March 1999. The purpose of the Conference is to identify emerging critical issues concerning agriculture and sustainable development in SIDS, taking into consideration the latest developments in social and economic areas, trade and the environment at both national and international levels. The objective is to develop a plan for the sustainable development of SIDS, as a follow-up to the World Food Summit. Three background papers and a draft Plan of Action have been prepared by FAO for this meeting.1


2. There is no internationally accepted definition of a small island developing state. However, small island states were given an international political identity with the establishment in 1991 of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). For the purposes of this document, SIDS are taken to comprise the 42 members and observers of AOSIS (including four low-lying coastal states), with the addition of three states which are members of FAO, but not of AOSIS (Bahrain, the Dominican Republic and Haiti). Ten of these states have `least developed country' status within the UN System.

3. As a group, SIDS are well endowed with forests. However, due to the considerable variation in land area,2 population density and climatic, geological and topographic conditions, the extent of forest cover varies greatly among island States. In 1995, forests covered from 74 to 85 percent of the total land area in Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu, under 10 percent in many of the smaller island States and less than 1 percent in Haiti.
4. Island States with a land area of less than 50 km2 had a combined forest cover estimated at 35.4 percent of total land area in 1995, as compared to the world average of 26.5 percent. On the other hand, the annual deforestation rate from 1990 to 1995 in these island States (0.9 percent per annum) is three times the world average. The highest rates of annual deforestation, ranging from 2.6 to 7.2 percent, were found in Caribbean islands (notably Jamaica, Saint Lucia, Haiti and the Bahamas) and in the Comoros. The main causes of deforestation include conversion of forested land for agricultural use and infrastructure development. The Solomon Islands, Samoa and Tonga are among countries with high rates of forest degradation due to heavy exploitation of timber resources. Forest degradation due to natural causes (e.g. cyclones and forest fires) is also common in some SIDS.
5. Cape Verde is the only Small Island Developing State that registered a positive change in forest cover from 1990 to 1995, as a result of afforestation efforts.3

6. Forests and trees contribute directly to food security by providing the following forest products: 7. Income and employment provided by forestry and forest-related activities give people in rural communities the opportunity to purchase food and other basic necessities. Forested watersheds provide soil and water conservation, benefiting downstream agricultural areas. Windbreaks and shelterbelts provide shade and shelter for agricultural crops and animals and reduce soil erosion. Mangroves and other coastal forests protect coastal areas against the effects of strong winds, storm surges and salt spray, and provide nutrients for the marine food web. Forests also act as reservoirs of biological diversity; many of the foods consumed today originated as wild crops in forests4 and genetic improvement of agricultural crops has much to gain from existing wild species. 8. Fifteen AOSIS members list timber or hardwood forests as one of their main natural resources. Of these, Fiji, Guyana, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Suriname and Vanuatu report wood processing as one of their main industries. Papua New Guinea is by far the largest SIDS producer and exporter of industrial roundwood and is the world's second largest exporter of tropical hardwood logs. In spite of its limited size, the Solomon Islands is the world's sixth largest exporter of tropical hardwood logs. Other major producers of industrial roundwood include Fiji and Samoa. Some concern has been expressed that the current level of wood production in Samoa, Solomon Islands and Tonga may not be sustainable.

9. Conversely, many of the smaller States and territories in the South Pacific and all of the States in the Caribbean (except Cuba) are net importers of sawnwood and wood-based panels and paper. Countries which rely on imports for fuelwood and charcoal and/or industrial roundwood include Bahrain, Cyprus, Malta and Mauritius and some of the smaller States in the South Pacific region.

10. Trees outside forests (such as on agricultural land) are often of very significant local value in SIDS with limited forest cover. For example, in many small-island nations, coconut trees serve as a major source of building materials, coconuts, copra and coconut oil.

11. Due to a high ratio of coastline to land area and relatively short distances between the uplands and the coastal areas, the following environmental functions of forests and trees are of special importance, and in many cases outweigh their production value: 12. Tourism is one of the most important income-earning industries in many SIDS, and interest in eco- or nature-based tourism is increasing. Although forests on these islands are rarely the primary attraction for visitors, they have a great potential to complement dive sites and other primary attractions. Pohnpei (in the Federated States of Micronesia), Dominica, Jamaica and St. Lucia are among the island States that have made efforts to develop the tourist potential of their forest areas. By maintaining the health of coral reefs, which, in turn, protect beaches from sand erosion, coastal forests play an indirect but critical role in the tourism industry in some island nations. 13. These many and important roles of trees and forests in small islands call for a holistic and integrated approach to forest conservation and development, which takes into account not only the direct benefits obtainable from the forests but also their links with associated natural ecosystems and other economic sectors.


14. Small-Island Developing States vary enormously according to distinct geographic, biological, social, cultural and economic characteristics, but face similar constraints to the sustainable use of forest resources. These include: 15. Finally, the long timeframe needed for forestry development increases the risks of changes in demand and/or legal provisions (e.g. land tenure), as well as the risk of failure due to natural calamities, pests and diseases. This can be a major disincentive to tree planting and sustainable forest management by the private sector.


16. The following activities have been undertaken or are planned:


17. A draft Plan of Action for ensuring sustainable management of land, water and forestry resources and environmental protection of SIDS has been formulated for discussion at the Ministerial Conference. The Plan comprises the following five main areas of actions: 18. The main forestry-related objectives and activities of the proposed plan of action are presented below.

Objective 4.1: To promote the conservation and sustainable use of land and water resources and manage sustainably the forest resources

(a) Promote the adoption and implementation of an integrated land use planning approach, which take into consideration the linkages and interactions between the various ecosystems and economic sectors.

(b) Promote rehabilitation and conservation of forestlands and watersheds and, where necessary and sustainable, upgrade the productive capacity of these resources and ensure sustainable forest management and sound harvesting practices.

(c) Combat land degradation and enhance coastal protection through, inter alia, intensified soil conservation, afforestation and reforestation activities.

(d) Promote agroforestry systems and the development of multipurpose tree species which are resistant to pest, diseases and cyclones.

(e) Pursue integrated planning of both terrestrial and marine environments to prevent their degradation and to soundly utilize the full potential of the natural resource base, particularly for eco-tourism.

Objective 4.2: To enhance the environmental protection

(a) Strengthen the information basis for environmental monitoring and integrate environmental values and concerns into the development process.

(c) Enforce, ratify or conclude, as appropriate, international conventions, such as the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol; if required, adopt national legislation to implement these conventions.

Objective 4.3: To improve disaster preparedness

(a) Minimize the vulnerability to and impact of natural hazards, climate fluctuations, forest fires, pests and diseases through the formulation of disaster preparedness and mitigation strategies.

(c) Undertake efforts to protect mangrove areas which provide protection against tidal surges and to storm damage.

Objective 5.1: To develop and/or strengthen national capacities in the context of the Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture

(b) Build up national policy formulation capacity in agricultural, forestry, and fisheries sectors and adequate analytical capacity to assess the impact of policy changes being proposed at WTO.

Objective 5.2: To strengthen the supporting services to agriculture

(c) Improve the availability and accessibility of credit which is critical to promoting non-traditional commodities.

(e) Strengthen national forest agencies and improve coordination among national forestry and related agencies in their work and in relation to foreign funded assistance programmes.

Objective 5.3: To provide a coherent framework for sustainable natural resource management and environmental protection

(a) Provide and/or ensure implementation of appropriate legislation on environmental protection and natural resource management, including land, water and forest resources, plant protection and animal health, climate change, desertification, biodiversity, wildlife and genetic resources, protected areas and critical habitats, integrated coastal area management , and preservation of the marine environment, and the conservation and management of fisheries within areas under national jurisdiction and, where appropriate, on the high seas.

(b) Promote integrated approaches to natural resources management, in order to mitigate adverse inter-sectoral impacts.

(c) Integrate national forest policies into a larger natural resources management framework at national level.

(d) Discourage unsustainable agricultural practices, uncontrolled deforestation, destructive fishing practices and overfishing.

(e) Elaborate measures to mitigate biodiversity losses.

(f) Establish, as appropriate, relevant databases, information systems and support regional collaboration, including inter-island information and technology sharing.

19. The indicative total cost estimate for the implementation of the Plan is US$180 million, of which the domestic private and public sectors would provide about 50 percent and 20 percent, respectively. The balance would be made up by the international community on grant and concessional terms.


Environment and Natural Resources in Small-Island Developing States. Sustainable Production, Intensification and Diversification of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in Small-Island Developing States. Trade Issues facing Small Island Developing States.


Ranging from 20 km2 (Nauru) to more than 450 000 km2 (Papua New Guinea).


The total forest area in Cape Verde is reported to have almost trebled in size, from 16 000 ha to 47 000 ha, equivalent to an annual increase of 24percent.


For example, breadfruit, bananas and plantains, cocoa, cola nut, coffee, mango, pawpaw, guava and avocado. Such major staples as yams and cowpeas probably evolved on the forest margins and wild rice originated in swampy areas of the forest. Oil palms and the shea butter tree are other important food-producing species in forests and woodlands.


In Mauritius, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and Fiji, more than 30 percent of the higher plant species are reported as endemic. An estimated 24 percent of the total number of bird species are endemic in the Solomon Islands and 20 percent in Fiji. States with a high percentage of endemic mammals include Mauritius (50 percent), Solomon Islands (36 percent) and Fiji (25 percent).


Papua New Guinea, Suriname and Guyana are notable exceptions.


The 1990 UN Disaster Relief Organization review of the economic impact of disasters over the past 20 years reports that of the 25 most disaster-prone countries, 13 are SIDS.