2 December 2003, Rome -"The situation of Small Island Developing States (SIDS)* continues to be one of exposure and growing vulnerability due to new challenges and emerging economic, social and ecological issues," says an FAO report.

The report coincides with a side event on SIDS hosted by FAO today to provide Agriculture Ministers and other high-level officials from Member States with the latest developments regarding the implementation of the Barbados Plan of Action on Sustainable Development of SIDS, adopted at a global UN conference in 1994.

A UN conference in Mauritius to be held between 30 August and 3 September 2004 will review the implementation of the Barbados Plan of Action ten years later, and will reflect on a long-term vision.

In preparation for this summit, FAO has participated in two sub-regional meetings in 2003, and will also offer its contribution at an inter-regional meeting in the Bahamas (26-30 January 2004) and a preparatory meeting in New York (12-14 April 2004).

Most Small Island Developing States rely heavily on agriculture, forestry and fisheries exports, which leaves them vulnerable to fluctuations in commodity prices and trade regulations.

"In a rapidly changing world, new challenges are emerging which need a harmonized approach to help SIDS adapt to the trade environment and seek opportunities to diversify their agricultural systems," the FAO report says.

Many SIDS are increasingly dependent on food imports and the rates of nutrition-related health problems are on the rise. Climate change including a rising sea level and vulnerability to natural disasters such as hurricanes are of particular concern, according to the report.

In addition, it is estimated that as a result of global warming sea level will increase by half a meter by 2100, thus severely threatening islands and low-lying coastal states.

Global warming is also likely to lead to an increase in maximum tropical cyclone wind speeds and lower central pressures, leading to more damaging storm surges, the report also says.

1 300 FAO projects

SIDS have been facing a series of problems such as narrow resource base, vulnerability to natural hazards, high external debt, difficulties in conforming to sanitary and phyto-sanitary regulations, over-exploitation of forest and marine resources, high population growth and mobility, relative poverty, limited variety of dietary intakes, scarcity of skilled manpower and weak institutional capacities.

"FAO is responding to the increased SIDS vulnerability by making agricultural use of land and water more efficient in order to address constraints of land fragmentation, the impact of tourism and urbanization on agriculture, water over-extraction and salt water intrusion, as well as the negative effects of imported convenience foods, such as canned food, on health and agriculture," FAO experts from the Sustainable Development Department said.

Over the past two decades, SIDS have benefited from 1 300 FAO projects worth US$300 million. One third of this amount represents funds spent on field projects since 1994, of which US$90 million was spent on 520 national projects, US$5 million on 83 regional projects and US$2.8 million on 3 interregional projects.

In addition, FAO has provided invaluable normative assistance for the implementation of international instruments in the fields of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, such as the Codex Alimentarius and the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, as well as for strengthening capacities on the Uruguay Round follow-up and multilateral negotiations on agriculture.

FAO Plan of Action

In March 1999, as a follow-up to the 1996 World Food Summit, FAO organized a Special Ministerial Conference on Agriculture in SIDS to better support the adoption of appropriate national policies and the provision of technical and financial assistance.

This Conference resulted in a MinisterialDeclaration which led to the adoption, by the FAO Council, of a Plan of Action on Sustainable Agriculture in SIDS.

This Plan of Action includes five priority areas:
  • adjusting to changes in the global trading environment;
  • moving towards more diversified and sustainable agriculture;
  • meeting fisheries needs;
  • ensuring sustainable management of forestry resources, environmental protection and mitigation of natural hazards;
  • capacity building, policies and institutional strengthening.

In 2002, FAO launched an initiative to help SIDS review and update their national policies and strategies for food security and agricultural development.

FAO is also working on improving capabilities of national Food Insecurity and Vulnerability Information and Mapping Systems (FIVIMS). "Both initiatives are aimed at addressing the relative poverty and food insecurity in SIDS," FAO expert Nadia Scialabba said.

Regarding fisheries, the long-term sustainability of this sector in SIDS has been threatened by over-exploitation of living marine resources, pollution and lack of effective surveillance mechanisms at both national and regional level, according to the FAO report.

FAO is helping SIDS to strengthen institutional capacities, improve fisheries conservation and management, enhance aquaculture development and improve post-harvest fish management, marketing and processing.

In the forestry sector, FAO's technical assistance helps SIDS to manage their forest resources in a sustainable way for the provision of wood and non-wood products, while simultaneously maintaining their environmental and economic functions, such as coastal production and ecotourism.

The FAO report suggests "synergic linkages" between tourism, agriculture, forestry and fisheries and invites the international community "to better respond to the increased vulnerability of SIDS" by enhancing traditional production systems and fostering existing initiatives to diversify SIDS production for local consumption and export of organic commodities.

"SIDS' tourism sector, which presently imports 50 to 95 percent of foods and beverages, offers potential outlets for such quality products.

"It is imperative that the global society recognizes the importance of ensuring the existence of SIDS as a vital and integrated component in mankind's heritage," the FAO report concludes.

Pierre Antonios
Information Officer, FAO
(+39)06 570 55373

*SIDS members of FAO:
Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Cape Verde, Comoros, Cook Islands, Cyprus, Dominica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Fiji, Grenada, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Kiribati, Maldives, Malta, Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Sao Tomé et Principe, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago and Vanuatu. Federated States of Micronesia and Tuvalu have applied for membership.