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5 facts on food security and nutrition in Small Island Developing States

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are a group of countries that generally share similar challenges, including susceptibility to natural disasters, limited resources and excessive dependence on international trade. ©jShep/shutterstock.com

The world is more connected than ever: economies, travel, media. Unfortunately, this also holds true for the world’s challenges. Plastic and pollution in our ocean harm the global fish supply. Water scarcity, rising sea levels, air pollution, deforestation … all of these affect the entire world. However, some people and countries feel these impacts more acutely than the rest. Island nations, for example, are often on the frontline.

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are a group of countries that share similar sustainable development challenges, including susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks and excessive dependence on international trade. Many SIDS are remote and have a relatively narrow resource base to fuel their economies and development. Fisheries, tourism and agriculture contribute significantly to national Gross Domestic Products (GDP); yet, these sectors are particularly vulnerable to the changing climate, among other global challenges. Learning how to overcome challenges like food insecurity, malnutrition and sustainable use of natural resources in SIDS can help us learn how to overcome them around the world.

Here are five ways that FAO is working with SIDS to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 – Zero Hunger:

1. Bolstering local food production

Improving the production of nutritious, local food is very important in SIDS, as imports are by far the largest source of food in these countries. In at least seven states in the Caribbean, more than 80 percent of food comes from imports. In the Bahamas, a rise in the cost of imported fish and a stronger focus on healthy diets have increased the demand for domestic sources of fish. FAO is assisting the Government of the Bahamas with technical support to develop the aquaculture sector to meet this demand. In addition, students from the Bahamas Agriculture and Marine Science Institute are constructing a mobile unit to promote ecologically viable and sustainable aquaculture and aquaponics farms, which will increase the volume of locally produced fish and fish products.

2. Ensuring access to affordable, diverse and nutritious food

SIDS are often sources of nutritious fruits, vegetables, pulses, seeds and nuts. Yet, diets in the SIDS are nutritionally poor, as much of the imported food that is affordable and available is also calorie-dense, high in fat and in sweeteners. These dietary habits have been contributing to the increased prevalence of obesity and chronic, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as diabetes and heart disease, in these island states. Policy measures can help to improve the supply and competitiveness of locally produced nutritious foods in order to make these foods more available, affordable and safe for all consumers, particularly the poorest. In Cuba, FAO has helped the government introduce more efficient technologies for food processing and provide knowledge on international standards of food safety to the country.

Left: Inadequate dietary habits in many SIDS have been contributing to an increased prevalence of obesity and chronic, non-communicable diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. ©Jakub Kapusnak/Unsplash Right: Capture fisheries play a major role in the national economies of many SIDS. ©Rachaphak/shutterstock.com

3. Increasing employment opportunities

By supporting local industries, SIDS can fightpoverty and decrease unemployment, the main constraints to accessing food. For example, in Jamaica, the production of ginger, despite being a high-value crop, has decreased because of ginger rhizome rot (GRR) disease, persistent droughts, fragmented coordination and lack of updated policies. To revitalize the industry, FAO supported the Government in developing an Action Plan for upgrading the ginger value chain. FAO also provided guidance on the governance and management of the value chain and strengthened technical capacities for implementation of the strategy to create sustainable “GRR-free” ginger production and expanded market opportunities.

4. Preserving forests by promoting sustainable practices

Forests host the vast majority of terrestrial biodiversity in SIDS. Papua New Guinea is home to the third largest tropical rainforest in the world. These forests are still a main source of livelihoods, nutrition and medicine for the majority of the population of Papua New Guinea, whose societies are predominantly traditional. Yet, increasingly, deforestation, conversion to farmland and logging-related degradation have put these forests under threat. FAO is working with the National Forestry authority to upgrade a Logging Code of Practice, as well as to establish a National Forestry Monitoring System.

5. Helping communities recover from and be more resilient to natural disasters 

Extreme events are increasing with climate change. This means that the focus needs to be on making livelihoods, particularly agriculture-based ones, more resilient. This is especially true for island states, which are especially vulnerable to extreme weather events.

In 2017, Hurricane Maria severely damaged the agriculture sector of Dominica, directly affecting income, food and nutrition security for a large percentage of the island’s population. Following the hurricane, FAO provided technical assistance to rehabilitate their agriculture sector and assisted the Ministries of Agriculture in Dominica and the other countries affected to mobilize resources.  

Typhoon Haiyan devastated the livestock population on the Philippine island of Tubabao, critically impacting the livelihoods of households that depend on livestock as a source of food and income. ©FAO/Rommel Cabrera

In 2014, governments adopted the SIDS Accelerated Modalities of Action (S.A.M.O.A) Pathway that highlights food security and nutrition and their interplay with climate change and other sustainable development challenges. One outcome of this framework was the creation of the Global Action Programme (GAP) on Food Security and Nutrition in the SIDS, produced by FAO and other partners. FAO continues to support SIDS with policy advice, analysis and technical assistance to enable the development of more sustainable and resilient food.

Finding solutions to climate change and securing access to healthy diets in the SIDS means finding solutions that would work worldwide.  We need to act on our shared responsibility in implementing the 2030 Agenda, especially that of achieving #ZeroHunger, and supporting SIDS, who in some cases have their very existence threatened.


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2. Zero hunger, 3. Good health and well-being, 10. Reduced inequalities