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Excessive food imports threaten SIDS economies
Island export commodities face declining prices
Small Island Developing States are overly dependent on trade to feed their people. The availability of food in island countries is being threatened by increasing dependence on food imports and the rising cost of these imports. On average, SIDS import more than 30 percent of their cereal consumption needs. In islands where tourism is the dominant activity, 50 percent to 95 percent of foods and beverages are imported.

According to Deep Ford, FAO Senior Economist, "Increasing globalization of the economy and the role of supermarkets over the last five years have affected what islanders grow as well as the demand for island products in developed countries. Yet, in almost all SIDS, 80 percent of agricultural export earnings are still generated by the top five commodities including, sugar, bananas and fish products."

Changing lifestyles have led to nutrition-related diseases

Hunger and malnutrition are serious problems in many developing island countries, which until the early 1990s were mostly self-sufficient in food with their people enjoying relatively healthy lifestyles. Today, that has changed and nutrition-related diseases and dependency on food imports are increasing.

The proportion of under and malnourished islanders is high and lifestyle changes have meant a growing epidemic of chronic diseases linked to poor nutrition. Obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular problems are now common in most of these small states. Micronutrient deficiencies are widespread and directly related to poor diets that are high in energy dense foods and low in fruits and vegetables, partly the result of expanding fast-food restaurant chains.

Sustainable agricultural development policies and programmes needed

"If SIDS are going to break out of this cycle of hunger, poverty and underdevelopment," says Mr. Ford, "it is essential that they grow their economies through sustainable agricultural development policies and programmes as well as increased agricultural trade, while reducing their dependence on imported food products and preferential export markets."

Small Island Developing States are committed to the World Trade Organization (WTO) reform process for agriculture and many need special provisions to address their developmental goals and vulnerabilities. Trade liberalization is not an end in itself, but a means to advance the development of small island countries.

A clear need for national policies that emphasize rural development

"The removal of international distortions in trade policies is necessary but not sufficient to release the full agricultural potential of developing countries," according to Mr Ford. "There is a clear need for complementary national policies that emphasize rural development, increasing incentives to producers and public investment in rural infrastructure, education and technology. The returns to public investment are greater with increased trade liberalization and the returns from freer and fairer trade are greater with adequate public investment."

To help SIDS improve their trade options, FAO support to SIDS has provided trade facilitation support and policy assistance to developing islands, as well as promoting technology for increased productivity and competitiveness and improved institutional and technical capacities as a basis for trade expansion. FAO has also held trade policy workshops in both the Pacific and Caribbean islands and produced trade policy notes addressing specific issues related to SIDS, namely preferences and special and differential treatment.

The FAO study Agricultural Production and Trade, Preferences and Policy in SIDS set a baseline for evaluating the impact and potential responses to the WTO multilateral trading system on SIDS agriculture. This study contributed to the inclusion of "trade and food security" in the Mauritius Strategy's top ten issues of special concern for SIDS integration into the global economy.

The challenges outlined in the study have become increasingly worrisome given the debate on the reform of the European Union Common Agricultural Policy on sugar, the outcomes of the dispute panels on sugar and bananas in the WTO and the stalled global and hemispheric negotiations.

The power of globalization in the information age

Globalization has been a powerful force for growth and development. Over the past 20 years it has reshaped the international economic environment and brought closer integration of countries and peoples around the world. It has increased communication, the flow of goods and services and most importantly the exchange of knowledge. The telephone has allowed the transfer of price information between the remotest areas and marketing centres in real time.

The computer has provided the capacity for much improved planning and policy design for development. Globalization has reduced the sense of isolation and increased access to knowledge unimaginable just a few years ago. This increased interconnectedness increases both our responsibility and opportunity to build a more equitable world.

But, Mr. Ford warns, "The potential costs of globalization should also be recognized. The human face and richness of diversity must be respected. It is not surprising that the wealthy countries of the world defend their agricultural policies that preserve rural traditions. The nature and pace of change should not jeopardize the ability of the small and poor countries to do the same."

Read more…

Small Island Developing States struggle to survive

Excessive food imports threaten SIDS economies

From Earth Summit to Rome Ministerial Conference


John Riddle
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53259

FAO/16987/P. Behlen-Dexter

Globalization has reduced the popularity of traditional foods.

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