FAO :: Newsroom :: Focus on the issues :: 2005 :: Small Island Develo…
Small Island Developing States struggle to survive
Globalization and natural disasters threaten island life
Threatened by the turbulence of globalization and the uncertainties of climate change, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) have been for decades struggling against the odds to develop their economies and improve the diets, health and livelihoods of their people.

FAO convened a Special Ministerial Conference in Rome 18 November 2005 in support of the 38 countries that make up the Small Island Developing States and Low-Lying Coastal Countries, some of the world’s most vulnerable nations. The Conference was called to explore how agriculture, forestry and fisheries can be better integrated into SIDS economies to improve the nutrition and food security needs of islanders and to provide better employment opportunities.

New projects link food security and the environment

Nadia Scialabba, FAO’s senior officer and focal point for SIDS, explained: “The meeting will explore options to increase the efficiency of agriculture, forestry and fisheries and make recommendations on policy development. This Conference is unique in that it is offering 12 concrete projects that Ministers will review and then recommend the implementation of the projects best suited to their countries. (See "Project proposals" in links at right.) The projects focus on cross-sectorial linkages in areas such as tourism, environment and rural development and will help to build economic, social and environmental resilience in SIDS.”

The threat to SIDS from environmental changes, hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons is widely known, especially following the December 2004 tsunami, which struck several SIDS countries. However, these small islands also face many other lesser known, but no less serious challenges to the health and livelihood of their people and economies.

FAO study examines shared vulnerabilities of SIDS

In a background document prepared for the Conference, FAO lists eight specific vulnerabilities that SIDS countries share. For example, they are all vulnerable to their environmental situations because of their narrow natural resource bases. Their remoteness and propensity for climatic disasters limit the options SIDS have to address their natural and man-made hazards and their ability to diversify their economic activities. SIDS small national economies make them more reliant on trade and, thus, especially susceptible to external shocks.

According to the background document, SIDS have very diverse economies and levels of development, with some depending on agriculture, forestry and fisheries and others relying primarily on sectors such as tourism for their food security. Instability in agricultural production and exports and increasing dependence on food imports by SIDS has led to vulnerabilities caused by events that are often outside their control.

The FAO report says: “Distinguishing between inherent and self-inflicted vulnerability is an underlying issue” that has “direct implications in determining appropriate policies that would enable SIDS to overcome their vulnerabilities and increase their resilience. In any case, building resilience involves expenditures too high for small economies and the assistance of the international community is warranted.”

Meeting the Millennium Development Goals
As an important means towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals, FAO has been assisting SIDS since the Barbados Programme of Action in 1994 (see related story, “From Earth Summit to Rome Ministerial Conference”), helping to increase food security by improving the efficiency of their food production systems. Recently the focus of FAO assistance has shifted to integrating sustainable food security policies and programmes within the national poverty reduction strategies of SIDS in recognition of the important role that agriculture, including forestry and fisheries, plays in an effective strategy for economic growth. Soundly managed agriculture, forestry and fisheries increase the self-reliance of island people and also protect the environment.

Improved agricultural diversity and better farming practices not only improve islanders’ food security, but it will reduce the ravages these countries face when struck by natural disasters like hurricanes, cyclones and typhoons. Diversified agricultural production systems, effective fisheries management and planting hurricane-tolerant crops, together with good forestry practices would all combine to improve the lives of islanders.

The importance of responsible fisheries

While land resources on small islands are small, the islands often govern limited tracts of ocean. The FAO project, Responsible Fisheries for Small Island Developing Countries, focuses on the implementation of the FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, to help SIDS strengthen the capacity of fisheries administrations in order to promote and facilitate responsible fisheries in support of social and economic development.

Ministers of Agriculture of Pacific and Caribbean SIDS and Caribbean Community Heads of Government earlier this year endorsed two concept notes supporting the expansion of FAO’s Regional Programme for Food Security (RPFS) in the Caribbean and Pacific. The expanded programmes will address development constraints in the rural sector through investments in rehabilitation and construction of rural infrastructure such as water management, rural transportation, crop storage and processing. The programmes will also provide policy and technical assistance that addresses limitations in market access to food as well as disaster preparedness, management and mitigation.

Scaling up RPFS will engage a broad range of ministries, civil society, private sector organizations and the donor community in activities to build synergies with other initiatives and ensure coherence with existing strategies such as national development frameworks, poverty reduction strategies and ongoing activities aimed at achieving the Millennium Development Goal targets.

Progress made in the preparation of National Medium-Term Investment Programmes, the formulation of a portfolio of Bankable Investment Project Profiles and the implementation process for scaling up the RPFS will be presented to SIDS during the Special Ministerial Conference.

Economic and environmental resilience needed

Faced with threats on a number of fronts, SIDS are racing against time when it comes to economic and social development. To achieve economic resilience they will need to develop agro-enterprise and value-added commodity chains as well as exploit organic and fair-trade agriculture, linking agriculture with tourism. Social resilience issues that call out for attention are land tenure security, traditional food systems and sustainable livelihoods as well as nutritional security. And finally, environmental resilience demands the development of responsible fisheries, sustainable forest management and adaptation to climate change through disaster risk management.

Traditional indigenous farming can improve food security

Food security and the environment could be improved in many SIDS by reinvigorating some traditional indigenous food systems, which have proved to be effective in mitigating disasters caused by the more risky farming methods of the late 20th century. Small-scale traditional systems, including artisanal fisheries and non-grain starchy staples continue to hold the promise of better diets and less environmental damage. The erosion of traditional cropping systems and secure land rights have contributed to increasing poverty, malnutrition and unsustainable urbanization.

According to FAO, the contribution of small-scale enterprises to national development and poverty reduction needs to be increased by allocating more resources in their support. Applying FAO guidelines for increasing the contribution of small-scale fisheries to poverty alleviation and food security could help build fishing capacity, while upgrading local skills and traditional knowledge with modern scientific guidance can offer cost-effective solutions for renewing traditional food systems.

If SIDS can meet these challenges, with assistance from the international community, their people can look forward to a healthier life with more economic opportunities and less disruption from natural disasters. The international community has much to gain from helping to preserve these island states and the ecosystems that support them.

18 November 2005

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
(+39) 348 257 2921

FAO/P. Singh

Mono-cropping makes SIDS vulnerable to enviornmental and economic shocks


Project proposals



Cook Islands
Marshall Islands
Micronesia (F.S. of)
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands*


Dominican Republic
St. Kitts-Nevis
St. Lucia
St. Vincent-Grenadines

Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Seas

Cape Verde*
Sao Tome-Principe*

Note: * indicates Least Developed Country.

e-mail this article
Small Island Developing States struggle to survive
Globalization and natural disasters threaten island life
SIDS are threatened by the turbulence of globalization and the uncertainties of climate change, forcing them to struggle against the odds to develop their economies and improve the diets, health and livelihoods of their people.
A destination email address is needed.
A valid destination email address is needed.