SIDS 99: Inf.4 - Sum.


Special Ministerial Conference on Agriculture in Small Island Developing States

Rome, 12 March 1999


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1. Small island developing States (SIDS)1 are not a homogenous group and their individual possibilities for economic and social development differ. They share, however, a number of structural problems and their base for revenue generation is narrow. Agriculture has been the backbone of many SIDS economies, providing the main source of livelihood for population as well as being a major export earner.

2. SIDS are currently looking for opportunities to diversify their economies, particularly within the agricultural sector, in order to move toward more marketable crops, to increase foreign exchange earnings, to maintain their significant agricultural basis, increase their degree of food security and self-reliance by exploiting their resources more rationally and sustainably, and to prevent the unemployment situation in these countries from worsening. The realisation of these opportunities is however constrained by a number of production, marketing and institutional factors, coupled with unfavourable macro-economic conditions in these countries. SIDS must therefore prioritise their needs and focus on the development of strategies for the diversification and intensification of agriculture.

3. Agricultural production in SIDS is geared primarily toward crop production for home consumption (root crops, pulses, vegetables) and for the traditional export market (bananas, sugar, coconut, coffee), with livestock rearing conducted primarily at the household level. Major constraints to agricultural production include high cost and limited availability of agricultural labour and agricultural inputs, lack of efficient pesticide monitoring and control programs, and a lack of proper post-harvest and agro-processing practices. Diversification strategies should target integrated planning and management of land resources for agriculture, the introduction/expansion of non-traditional crops for both local consumption and export markets, and the intensification of agricultural production through improved local production of planting material, integrated crop and pest management, and low-cost irrigation and water-harvesting techniques. Improvement of post-harvest handling and agro-processing systems should also be targeted.

4. Efficient marketing systems for agricultural products are very difficult to establish in SIDS owing to high transport costs, limited availability of air and sea transportation systems, low investment in market research and poorly developed marketing systems. Marketing strategies should therefore target joint marketing, the promotion of commodities for niche markets, monitoring the need for change in operating strategy as commodities enter mainstream markets and the building of strategic alliances with market participants. Availability of- and accessibility to credit will be critical to achieving diversification and intensification of non-traditional commodities.

5. Research and extension services are a key to increasing the productivity and output of agricultural enterprises. In most SIDS, agricultural research is constrained by limited human and financial resources with weak links between extension, the farmer, and other sectors. Institutional strengthening, capacity building and the development of information systems for better planning and knowledge sharing are perhaps the most important priority for pursuing a successful diversification strategy.

6. As a group, SIDS are well endowed with forests but the extent of forest cover varies greatly among island states and the annual deforestation rate from 1990 to 1995 is three times the world average. Forests and trees play many important roles in SIDS, including contributing to food security, the production of wood and the provision of environmental and social services. Income and employment provided by forest-related activities give people in rural communities the opportunity to purchase food and other basic necessities.

7. Fifteen AOSIS members list timber or hardwood forests as one of their main natural resources. Papua New Guinea is the world's second largest exporter of tropical hardwood logs and, in spite of its limited size, the Solomon Islands is the world's sixth largest exporter of tropical hardwood logs. Other major producers of industrial roundwood include Fiji and Samoa. Conversely, many of the smaller states are net importers of sawnwood and wood-based panels and paper.

8. The long timeframe needed for forestry development increases the risks of changes in demand and/or legal provisions (e.g. land tenure), as well as the risk of failure due to natural calamities, pests and diseases. This can be a major disincentive to tree planting and sustainable forest management by the private sector.

9. The short term prospects for forest production intensification in terms of wood production in natural forests is limited in most SIDS. In the medium to long term, increases in production from natural forests depend on the adoption of environmentally sound forest harvesting practices and the application of appropriate silvicultural practices. An increase in wood production from plantations is possible in some of the larger SIDS.

10. Agroforestry systems with coconut as the main wood resource seem to hold the most promising prospect as a sustainable land use system for atoll States and Territories with low soil fertility and for smaller states where availability of land is a limiting factor. Value-added wood processing, in particular of local hardwoods, offers good prospects for diversification in SIDS well endowed with forests. Good prospects also exist for diversification in terms of the provision of non-wood forest products and eco-tourism.

11. Regional differences between SIDS, and even between SIDS of the same region, affect natural resource endowments for inshore, offshore and inland capture fisheries as well as the capacity of SIDS to promote the development of aquaculture.

12. In general, inshore capture fisheries adjacent to centres of urban population are heavily fished if not overfished, while inshore fisheries in outer islands tend to be only lightly exploited. An important policy consideration for all SIDS where there is significant offshore fishing, either within areas of national jurisdiction or on the high seas, is the need to secure additional benefits from the exploitation of regional fish stocks. Both inshore and offshore marine capture fisheries are central to tourism development in SIDS and they must ensure that policies are in place to carefully and sustainably manage tourism.

13. Aquaculture is being promoted in SIDS to augment fish production together with other marine products such as pearl, seaweed and aquarium fish. A number of regional programmes and networks exist to facilitate information flows and dissemination of technical information.

14. The prospects for increasing production from marine capture fisheries resources in island States vary regionally. In the Caribbean region many of inshore resources are already heavily fished, if not overexploited, so the chance of substantially increasing coastal production is not promising. In this region production increases are likely to come from offshore resources. In the Indian Ocean inshore fisheries are also heavily fished, except for countries such as the Maldives, where reef related stocks are viewed as being important for tourism. In other countries improved marketing of inshore product could stimulate production within sustainable bounds. Inshore fisheries in the South Pacific are also generally overfished except in more remote areas and outer islands. There are prospects for increasing production from these fisheries, but there are major difficulties in marketing. The greatest potential for increasing production comes from offshore pelagic resources, many of which are considered, at the present time, to be under-exploited.

15. In all SIDS, limited potential exists for increasing fisheries production from aquaculture and reef enhancement activities. The fisheries sector in many SIDS does not offer significant prospects for diversification in terms of production. With respect to the diversification of value-added processing, some possibilities exist and new markets are opening up.

16. In all SIDS, limited potential exists for increasing fisheries production from aquaculture and reef enhancement activities. The fisheries sector in many SIDS does not offer significant prospects for diversification in terms of production. With respect to the diversification of value-added processing, some possibilities exist and new markets are opening up.

17. Considering the small geographical size of many SIDS, externalities of any economic activity will most likely be felt on the whole island, especially in coastal areas. Increasing levels of economic activities further exacerbate the already evident over-exploitation of coastal resources and environmental degradation of many coastal habitats. Different sectors often adversely impact each other through conflicting or competitive use of natural resources. Integrated planning and management would allow a better co-ordination between sectors so that environmental externalities could be minimized, conflicts between users reduced, and synergies enhanced.

18. Despite constraints stemming from their small size, geographic location, scope and scale of current activities and limited possibilities for expansion and diversification, agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and in some cases minerals, are critically important for SIDS. The importance of primary production, and the special situation of SIDS vis-à-vis other developing States, has been clearly recognized in international fora and reflected fully in international instruments arising from those fora.

1 There is no internationally-accepted definition of a small island developing State. However, for the purposes of this paper SIDS are taken to be the 42 members and observers of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) - four of which are low-lying coastal States (Guinea-Bissau, Belize, Guyana and Suriname). Three additional small island developing States, which are Members of FAO, but not of AOSIS (Bahrain, Dominican Republic and Haiti), have been included.