Fiji Minister for Primary Industries: Speech to Fifth Regional Meeting of Heads of Agriculture and Forestry

This post is the second of two posts containing the content of keynote speeches to the biennial Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services meeting held to determine the strategic course of Land Resources Division of SPC.  The first post contains summary content of a speech made by Dr Jimmie Rogers and this second post contains the complete opening speech of Ratu Joketani Cokanasiga, who was Fiji’s Minister for Primary Industries at the time.  His speech lays out the challenges for agriculture in the Pacific region.

5th Regional Meeting of HOAFS

Opening Address, 24 September 2012, 9am

“Your Excellencies;

Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services from the 22 Pacific Island Countries and territories;

Mr. Michael Hailu – the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and rural Co-operation (CTA);

Dr. Vili Fuavau – FAO Sub-Regional Representative to the Pacific islands;

Dr. Richard Markham, Program Manager for Pacific Crops for the Australian Council for International Agricultural Research;

Distinguished Representatives from Australia, the European Union, Regional and International Organizations and Agencies;

Representatives of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community;

Colleagues and Friends;

Ni sa Bula!

On behalf of the people and Government of Fiji, let me extend to you warm greetings.

I am honoured to be able to welcome you to the 5th Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services meeting, hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community’s Land Resources Division.

The agriculture and forestry sectors of the Pacific Islands are facing a number of strategic threats: from rising food insecurity associated with rising imported food prices and shrinking national food production; from climate change, and the threat that rising temperatures and sea levels pose to our forest resource and food production systems; and from urbanization, the challenges that poses to the management of our agriculture and forestry resources, and the health of our populations.

The Pacific’s population is booming, with estimates indicating it now exceeds 10 million and is expected to reach 15 million by 2035. That is equivalent to a growth rate of 188,000 people – equivalent to the population of Samoa – are being added to the total each year. An increasingly, that rising population is found in our towns and cities.

To meet the expected demand for food without significant increases in prices, the Pacific will need to increase the production of food by over 50%.

Yet agricultural productivity in the Pacific is falling, and has been for the last 3 decades as our populations move off the land to urban and per-urban centres, leaving often fallow land behind. And with the added threat of climate change, the ability of our food production systems to meet this level of rising demand is under threat.

Traditionally, communal living and subsistence economy has been the Pacific way. It is that sense of belonging to community that draws people together. Island life for many was abundant whether they were living in remote inland areas or large coastal villages. But fast-forward to the present day and projections of the movement and growth of people in urban areas is at an unprecedented rate in the capitals across the Pacific.

The challenge is how to feed our new, urban populations when the experience of the intensification of agriculture across the Pacific has led to land degradation, deforestation and pollution of scarce water resources. These challenges are further compounded by the impact of sea level rise, and increasing pest and disease incidences, associated with climate change.

Outside the Pacific, the world is facing the same problems, with the Global Population estimated to hit 9 billion in the coming decades, with the FAO estimating that the world needs to produce 70–100 per cent more food by 2050 in order to meet demand, and stem food price rises already at risk due to high energy prices and the use of food for biofuels.

Subsequently, regional co-operation and support is critical to help us face such a complex array of challenges from without and within. The role for regional leadership in facilitating such co-ordination, as well as providing capacity building and supplementation, remains strong.

However, there remain significant challenges to developing national and regional policies that support the wider emergence of more sustainable forms of land use and efficient agricultural production.

The complexity, and often lack, of information flow between scientists, practitioners and policy makers is known to exacerbate the difficulties, despite increased emphasis upon evidence-based policy.

Just as it is imperative to ensure that policy decisions are informed by scientific knowledge and priorities, it is also vital that research should be directed at issues that influence current and future policy frameworks and be relevant to the needs and issues of farmers and agriculturalists in different parts of the world, enabling public science and policy institutions to become proactive rather than reactive.

Therefore, the Pacific needs SPC to continue to not only be at the forefront of cutting edge research into agriculture and forestry issues in the Pacific, but develop systems for translating and the sharing of important research that is and has been done, so that it can better serve policy.

Likewise, there is a need for greater emphasis on the development of evidence-based systems for analyzing the impact of policy and research interventions, to facilitate strategic decision-making, and sharing of important lessons between the members of our region.

In order that we can confidently face the challenges of not only the come years, but decades and indeed the 21st century, we need to, as a region, find answers to the strategic threats we face, and develop practical solutions.

We need to know what the predicted critical impacts of climate change will be on agricultural yields, cropping practices, crop disease spread, disease resistance, so that we direct resources accordingly.

We need to know how best we can encourage agricultural and forestry intensification and extensification, without negatively impacting on our soil health, land and marine biodiversity and climate change emissions.

We need to know what gains could be achieved by crop genetic improvement to help us cope with both rising demand, and increased environmental stress.

We need to know how we can develop suitable, middle and small-scale animal production systems capable of providing sufficient economic return without impacting on the environment, in order to meet growing demand for meat and animal products.

We need to know what market and non-market mechanisms will need to be put in place to help link our agricultural production bases to increasingly urban markets, as well as markets overseas.

We need to know what are the effective and efficient policies and other interventions to encourage sustainable land management, to ensure that in rising to meet the challenge of rising population growth, we maintain sustainable land development practices.

We need to know how best to encourage adoption of new technologies and new approaches to agricultural and forestry production, and resource management, by small-holder farmers.

We need to know what role the private sector and farmer associations can play in the supply of critical information to farmers, and how much agricultural extension, farmer mobilization and empowerment, be achieved by the use of new technologies, such as mobile phones and the web.

We need to know how the transition from today’s smallholder based agriculture to sustainable agricultural intensification can occur in ways that maintain cultural and environmental livelihoods for smallholder farmers.

We need to know what steps need to be taken to encourage young people to study agricultural science, to reverse the flow of our young people away from vocations in agriculture and forestry.

We need to know what is causing the change in consumer behavior towards the consumption of foods with poor nutritious value, and what intervention methods can be developed that encourage and provide incentives to all consumers to eat healthier diets in order to combat the rising tide of NCDs.

Given the threat of population pressures combined with climate change, the goal for the agricultural sector is no longer simply to maximize productivity, but to optimize across a far more complex landscape of production, rural development, environmental, and food consumption outcomes. However, there remain significant challenges to developing national and regional policies that support the wide emergence of more sustainable forms of land use and efficient agricultural production.

Greater investment into agricultural research in this region in order to find answers to these questions; investment in developing systems for effectively sharing these lessons; designing programs capable of implementing this new knowledge, are then critical areas where the Secretariat of the Pacific Community can play a leading role, so that the Pacific agriculture and forestry sectors can meet the challenges of the 21st Century.

We are presented with a unique opportunity, over the next few days, to revisit and review the strategic direction of the Secretariat’s Land Resources Division. Together, we can work to ensure that we have the vision, and regional co-ordination required.

Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you all a fruitful and satisfying next few days. It gives me great pleasure to declare your Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Service Meeting opened.

Vinaka Vakalevu”

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