The Right to Food

Policies in Fiji champion the right to food

Experts' corner - 18.08.2020

The Pacific State showcases how legislators can implement good practices to face big challenges affecting food security and nutrition -Q&A with Fiji´s Permanent Secretary for Agriculture, Ritesh Dass.


18 August 2020, SuvaFood security and nutrition remain a concern in Fiji, a middle-income country considered a Small Island Developing State. Against this backdrop, the country is embarking on a process to ensure access to adequate food for everyone. Fiji showcases how legislators can implement good practices in favour of the eradication of hunger and malnutrition. 

Ritesh Dass discusses how to formulate and implement food security and nutrition policies that integrate human rights principles, based on Fiji´s Strategic Development Plan (SDP) 2019-2023. He also explains how the country is addressing the tremendous impact of COVID-19 on agriculture and livelihoods. 

During the process to prepare the Strategic Development Plan (SDP), what changed in comparison with previous policy development experiences? What was the main value added by working jointly with FAO?

Ritesh Dass: One of the major changes has been the enormous participation from divisional unit teams in the preparation of the SDP of the Ministry of Agriculture (MoA). Although previous policy processes in charge of the Policy Unit of the Ministry of Agriculture involved a number of officers, this time a systematic and a more consistent approach was undertaken involving officers at all levels. The process was strengthened by the technical assistance of the FAO FIRST Programme, who facilitated the different preparation stages.

The SDP includes in its first priority a decisive pledge not only for food security but also for nutrition, understanding that actions need to be taken from the agriculture sector in order to make real progress on SDG 2.

"The SDP includes in its first priority a decisive pledge
not only for food security but also for nutrition, understanding that actions
need to be taken from the agriculture sector in order to make real progress on SDG 2".


The SDP is a result - based policy that includes performance indicators that allow for monitoring the degree of achievement of the different objectives. Linkages were established between the indicators in the SDP and the Costed Operational Plan (COP), as an effective way of connecting the medium term strategy of the MoA with its annual working plan.

We have been working with FAO FIRST for the past few years. Our collaboration has built capacities within the ministry for a more effective policy implementation including a better practical knowledge of the monitoring processes, and how to collect and analyse data, report the main findings and provide useful recommendations for the way ahead. A recent example is MoA COP report for the first 9 months of this financial year, which was commended by the Ministry of Economy as the only monitoring report produced by any government ministry so far. The invaluable experience from this exercise would have left a benchmark for MoA to improve in the next SDP.

After policy development, main challenges are related to policy Implementation. What are the measures that your Ministry is undertaking to ensure that the different priorities included in the SDP are being put in practice and what are the most urgent/biggest challenges you are facing?

RD: The MoA has traditionally implemented its actions through different capital programmes funded with an annual budget. One of the measures we have taken to ensure that the SDP priorities are put into practice is to make sure that there is a clear connection between the results and indicators included in the SDP, and the action plans in the annual COP. The COP is linked to the SDP through its key performance indicators, that also facilitate the monitoring of projects and programmes annually.

The Ministry is also working on strengthening the capacities of its officers for data analysis, making sure that inconsistencies are identified and that relevant justifications of changes with regards to planned actions are provided on time.

Obtaining adequate financial resources is always a challenge. Priorities in the SDP have to be directly connected to the programme budgets to make sure that resources allocation are aligned with the main MoA objectives. This relationship is increasingly improving in each of our annual COPs. In addition to national resources, the Ministry will be benefitted by a budget support from the European Union for the next three years that will certainly support the SDP implementation in the current COVID-19 crisis.

The National Development Plan clearly states as a target that every Fijian has access to adequate food of acceptable quality and nutritional value. This is closely linked with the normative content of the right to food adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Right. What are the main strategies within the SDP ensuring that this goal is achieved?

RD: The SDP has for main strategies. The first is improving food nutrition and security for all Fijians, by focusing on nutritious food production, safety and access; school focused interventions; rural and urban home gardens. The second is increasing farmer household income for sustainable livelihoods. This means, access to markets, women and youth in agriculture and agriculture research services The third is increasing the adoption of sustainable resource management and climate smart agriculture. And finally, establishing and improving commercial agriculture through financial access, farmer technical capacity and agri-tourism

The preparation of the SDP was highly participatory, and involved consultations with many actors from other ministries, development agencies, private sector, etc. What are in your view the advantages and disadvantages of such a process?

RD: One of the advantages of such a participatory process with inputs from other ministries staff and sectoral stakeholders is that the strategies, outcomes and KPIs of the SDP become validated from a wider perspective that makes them more legitimate and relevant.

Within the MoA staff, widespread participation created a deeper sense of ownership amongst them since they were able to identify their own contributions in the document and more targeted achievements at the end of each year.

The main disadvantage is that the process was time-consuming and that planning activities were sometimes being delayed by other conflicting tasks and emergencies. Some stakeholders were not able to allocate substantive time to participate. Getting everyone on the same page was challenging and required a collective effort to succeed.

The Ministry of Agriculture has a central mandate in ensuring food and nutrition security. What is the vision of the Ministry about how agriculture can contribute to eradicating forms of malnutrition and undernourishment? What are the main areas of action for a more nutrition-sensitive agriculture sector?

RD: The Ministry is fully aware that for achieving sound progress on fighting food insecurity and malnutrition, a different set of actions involving different sectors are needed. Its involvement as one of the champions for the Fijian Policy for Food and Nutrition Security, with participation of the ministries of Health, Education, Women, Fisheries and other sectors is a clear proof of it. We are working to have this policy formally approved very soon.

"For achieving sound progress on fighting food insecurity and malnutrition,
a different set of actions involving different sectors are needed". 

At the sectoral level, the MoA has been focusing on promoting local food production to increase the consumption of root crops, vegetables and fruits for its population. Most of the MoA capital programmes, implemented annually, focused on ensuring food and nutrition security as Backyard gardening; school gardening; commodity development programmes etc. The reasoning behind this promotion is to increase the access and consumption of local foods and contribute to a reduction in the consumption of ultra-processed cheap foods high in salt, fat and sugar content and widely available everywhere.

The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting the food systems all over the world, and the pandemic’s impact in the Pacific is enormous. What are the main effects that are being noticed in the Fijian food system and how are they expected to affect food security and nutrition? What are the actions that the Ministry is planning as responses to this pandemic in the short, medium and long run?

RD: In Fiji with the economic downturn in the first three months of COVID19, thousands of workers have lost their jobs especially in the tourism related industries. The surge in unemployment means vulnerable groups such as children, women and elderly will be more vulnerable as reduced household income will contribute to unhealthier eating.

Since COVID-19, our ministry has been implementing its “Agriculture Response Package for COVID-19” with home gardening program and farm support package to boost nutritious food production in both urban and rural areas. These programmes have proved to be very popular amongst households who have taken high interest during this pandemic to plant and grow their own vegetables.

Our Ministry has also been active during this pandemic, in the promotion of rice for self-sufficiency since most of the rice is imported and widely consumed in every households. Villages and farmers have been encouraged to plant rice for home consumption with seeds and other inputs from MoA. Farmers are also being assisted by MoA to mill their rice for home consumption through small portable rice mills in the production areas.

In the long term, the Ministry has initiated contract farming where farmers will have contractual arrangements to plant and sell their crops to Agro Marketing Authority, a government statutory body under the Ministry of Agriculture.

During this challenging period the Ministry acknowledges the continuous support received from our main development partners, FAO, EU, SPC, DFAT, NFAD etc. for the provision of funds and technical assistance to implement the much needed responses.

About Ritesh Dass

Ritesh Dass is the Permanent Secretary for Agriculture of Fiji since October 2019. Previously he served the British American Tobacco in Fiji, where he held the position of CEO for nearly ten years firstly in the Solomon Islands and later in Fiji. Dass has significant exposure to the Agriculture sector in Fiji and in the region. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from University of the South Pacific and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Management from Central Queensland University.

About the Strategic Development Plan

The Strategic Development Plan 2019-2023 lays out the Government’s vision for Fiji’s agriculture sector, a five year development plan to modernise the industry and make the farmers competitive. It encompasses those strategic priority goals and key development targets that the Ministry, key stakeholders and partners has identified for the Agriculture Sector in Fiji. It takes into account the intent captured in the National Development Plan and shall also contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. FAO FIRST programme has worked with the MoA to ensure that policies set the right conditions for investments in agriculture and food systems to have a real impact on reducing hunger and all forms of malnutrition.

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