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Small island developing states need to take ownership of measures to combat obesity and hunger


Obesity affecting populations of the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) is a health emergency and these nations need to take ownership of measures to address this worrying trend’s underlying causes, said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva today.

The FAO chief made the remarks to participants – including leaders of small island nations – of a SIDS-focused event on the sidelines of the High Level Political Forum 2019.

The impacts of climate change, limited local food due to scarce and degraded land and ocean resources, changes in diets and a high dependence on imported foods - often ultra-processed products that are high in salts, sugars and fats - have led to “extremely high levels of overweight and obesity,” warned Graziano da Silva.

According to the 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) launched earlier today at the forum by FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, adult obesity in SIDS is almost 60 percent higher than the global average (20.9 percent versus 13.2 percent), and in many Polynesian and Micronesian small island nations, almost one in two adults is obese.

The prevalence of hunger or undernourishment is also higher in SIDS than globally (17.5 percent compared to 10.7 percent), according to the latest SOFI report.

“The growing reliance on food imports is related to the vulnerability of local food systems that support more diversified diets, and to weather related shocks,” said Graziano da Silva. 

“We need a global compromise for the Small Islands Development States, and I am happy that the upcoming session of the General Assembly, this September, will review and assess the implementation of the SAMOA Pathway,” added the FAO chief.

Global Action Programme

To address the root causes of obesity and hunger, Graziano da Silva urged small island nations to take ownership of the Global Action Programme (GAP) on Food Security and Nutrition in SIDS.

Speaking at the opening of the event, Tommy Remengesau Jr., President of the Republic Palau, said: “I hope that this evening, we will be able to see other ways of how we have made progress in improving the state of food security and nutrition in SIDS regions. I hope that we will be able to re-commit to our partnership together through the GAP, and to accelerate its implementation to ultimately realize the 2030 Agenda.”

Launched in 2017, the GAP offers a framework to better align SIDS’ and development partners’ actions and addresses the disconnection between sectoral policies that make meeting the small island nations’ complex food security and nutrition challenges difficult.

The FAO Director-General called specifically for countries to “take a cross-government approach to designing and implementing actions that are empowering communities, that are coherent, and that do not work against one another”. 

“For example, SIDS governments need to make better use of own their marine resources by addressing issues such as illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing which remains one of the greatest threats to marine ecosystems,” said Graziano da Silva.

He pointed out that 17 SIDS out of the 38 that are UN member countries, are still not signatories of FAO-led Agreement on Port State Measures (PSMA) – the sole, binding international agreement specifically targeting illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

Inga Rhonda King, President of ECOSOC, for her part said: “The GAP provides a framework to guide us forward. I hope that we can use this programme and today’s event to re-energize our commitment to food security and nutrition and sustainable development in SIDS, transforming our collective will in new partnerships, funds and integrated responses to tackle the challenges before us.”

“Tonga has made good progress in domestic food production and access to food via production and providing income sources to households and nutritionally vulnerable households. The challenges are still the nutrition triple burden and the government is committed to making a change in collaboration with its partners,” Losaline Ma’asi, Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forests of the Kingdom of Tonga.

“The linkage between food and nutrition, and oceans, seas and marine resources has enormous potential for economic, social and cultural development, while taking into account the environmental aspects to ensure development that is equitable and sustainable,” said Patrick Ignatius Gomes, Secretary-General of the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States.

“The nutritional situation illustrates the multiple burden of malnutrition as undernutrition, mineral deficiencies, overweight and obesity coexist in the islands, and undermine the public health and productive economy of these countries. Some islands, however, have untapped production potential for intra-regional trade in agricultural and food products,” said Hamada Madi Bolero, Secretary-General of the Indian Ocean Commission.

“We know that Business as Usual is not working for the health of the people or for the planet. Obesity, undernutrition and climate change are all parts of a global syndemic. We need more sustainable food systems and to achieve that we need to start leveling the playing field. We need good governance mechanisms, free from conflicts of interest, that puts the people and the planet at the center of policy decisions instead of short-term profits.” Paula Johns, Executive Director of ACT+ Brazil and Board Member of the NCD Alliance.

Ambassador Craig Hawke, Permanent Representative of the New Zealand and one of the co-organizers of the event said that there was a misconception that that island states had plenty of food and that everything was okay, he warned that that was not the case. Hawke also thanked President Remengesau for the idea that we need locally generated solutions coming from national contexts and applauded the work that FAO has done on the Global Action Programme which he noted was a concrete output of the SAMOA Pathway.