Third Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry Meeting - Nadi, Fiji, 10 March 2023
SPC's Director-General Opening Remarks, Stuart Minchin
- The Right Honorable Sitiveni Rabuka, Prime Minister of Fiji;
- Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry and representatives of our Pacific Island Countries and Territories;
- Director General of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, Sefa Nawadra
- The FAO Deputy Director General, Laurent Thomas; and
- Our regions many development partners, who together with the Pacific Community work to support you in achieving your development aspirations.
Ni sa bula vinaka, bonjour and good morning. It is a privilege to be here at the opening of the third Pacific Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry meeting, culminating the 2023 Pacific Week of Agriculture and Forestry.
It's safe to say that agriculture and forestry are the beating heart of our Blue Pacific and its communities. Together, they ensure our families are well fed, our community, culture and traditions remain strong, our economies are buoyant, and our natural resources are both a source of sustenance and sustainability.
Planning for our agriculture and forestry health and future is therefore vital, and I trust this gathering today will complement and add value to your Ministerial planning at home.
As the pandemic fades into our collective rear-view mirror and we get back to the work of building a sustainable agriculture and forestry future for all Pacific Islanders, the importance of seeing each other face-to-face is clear. There is no doubt that we accomplished a lot through our Zoom calls, phone calls and emails in the past three-years, but there is no substitute for shaking the hand of your peer, talking side-by-side with your colleagues, or agreeing on a way forward collectively while seated in the same room.
I am happy that I can join you for this important occasion, and I look forward to the outcomes. We do have ground to make up – new soil to dig and seeds to sow – as we account, and learn from, the pandemic adversity and plan for a future rendered uncertain by the climate emergency and biodiversity crisis. Through this new perspective, we have the opportunity to transform agriculture and forestry in the region.
Indeed, that is the theme of this week’s events: growing together, transforming Pacific agriculture and forestry. As we come together in one place, we recognize the opportunity to grow, and the opportunity to use what we learned in the past four years to transform our thoughts, our planning, our actions, and our vision for a Pacific agriculture and forestry sector that is stable, thriving….and resilient.
We have of course been focusing on climate change and natural resource security for quite some time, and their importance cannot be overstated. We know climate change is the greatest threat to our future and last week’s back to back tropical cyclones that devastated parts of Vanuatu attest to this reality.
Transforming agriculture and forestry through science and technology is vitally important to meet these challenges. Science and technology anchor our work at SPC, and I know they are indispensable to your work and progress at home as well. At SPC, we recognize that science and technology is not in opposition to traditional knowledge and culture, but they must complement each other to foster innovative solutions. We remain ready to collaborate with you on these wholistic responses that modern agriculture and forestry development demand.
Support to the development of a circular green economy is important as a holistic response to ever-increasing challenges in the region resulting from climate change, disasters, and unsustainable use of natural resources. As we know, the Pacific is unique due to its diversity, prevalence of large ocean states and its rich history and culture. The Pacific Community is working with you on developing nature-based solutions and approaches to not only sustainably, but regeneratively, support economic development through the agriculture and forestry sectors while protecting our environment. This includes focused work on strengthening the sectors through protecting and utilizing our plant genetic resources, soil health, integrated pest and disease management, animal health and production, sustainable forests and land management, biosecurity and invasives management as well as supporting access to much needed climate finance through our Climate Finance team.
SPC is long-term trusted partner on science and research in the region, and our multisectoral approach is well-placed to address the climate emergency, food security and economic development challenges. While the Land Resources Division is your primary point of contact for agriculture and forestry, we also bring capabilities from other Divisions to inform and support our services to you. This includes disaster risk management, water security, statistics- and public health where we are building together a One Heath programme.
We are working to strengthen our collaborative efforts with your ministries through developing a clear research agenda, providing support to technical networks such as PPPO and PHOVAPS, frequent contact, heightened knowledge exchange and training, and collective initiatives rooted in national needs. We aspire to work with you to support development that is informed, progressive and effective.
In fact, we have an example of our how our scientific capabilities can support planning today in the room next to this one: a 3D climate change impact model built by our Geoscience, Energy and Maritime Division that provides a visual understanding of the impact of sea level rise on low lying island communities, and the risk this poses to freshwater supplies and agricultural land. Please do visit this informative illustration of our work during the morning tea break.
This week’s side events and yesterday’s agenda for the Heads meeting were as diverse and lively as our region’s agriculture and forestry communities themselves. The topics touched on: managing agriculture risks to enhance trade, agribusiness incubation, pest and disease management, Pacific legacy crops such as coconut and kava, climate resilient agriculture, food systems, and the one health approach in our communities, amongst many more. I am sure these conversations were not only informative but sparked fresh collaborative efforts and action.
You are the linchpin of that action. We need the collective knowledge and expertise of you and your teams to chart our food and trade secure future. We need your ambition, your aspiration, your capacity… and your collectiveness as well. And you can be assured that SPC will continue to take this journey with you as both a principal partner and an enterprising engine of ideas and initiative.
The SPC Food systems flagship is one of our initiatives that is vital in supporting you in meeting your food security, health, and economic development goals, where agriculture and forestry sectors play a central role.
In 2021, all 27 SPC members endorsed the SPC Strategic Plan 2022 – 2031. In it, Food Systems features prominently as one of seven key focus areas and is intended to guide our interventions, but also reminds us that we have lots to celebrate and wield about Pacific food systems:
1) that Food is at the heart of Pacific identities, cultures and economies. The coastal food systems, indigenous food systems, and the relationship and ‘mana’ between the land and ocean, underpins this;
2) the blue Pacific continent that is the Pacific Ocean, is at the heart of both regional and global food systems. Over 50% of the global tuna catch comes from our region’s sustainably managed tuna fisheries; and in terms of crop diversity, CePACT, houses over 2,000 varieties of the region’s staple crops, of which the taro collection has over 1,000 varieties. And we must be mindful of this;
3) as individuals and as a collective, we have stewardship roles of the food systems environment – be it social, economic, and of nature - and we need to shoulder responsibility accordingly. Stark reminder that NCDs account for around 70-75% of all deaths in the region and these problems are linked to challenges in maintaining adequate diets which comes from deficiencies in our food system.
The Food Systems Flagship looks to mobilizing significant and scalable integrated programmes that brings together and connects capabilities and resources across SPC to achieve collective impact for members, for our region. It is grounded in culture, gender and social inclusion, rights-based methodologies, data and evidence, and monitoring, evaluation, and learning. It connects to other cutting-edge initiatives across SPC, including the Pacific Community Centre for Ocean Science (PCCOS), the Pacific Data Hub, and Pacific Centre for Crops and Trees (CePaCT). All these are key regional public goods and centres of expertise, to leverage interdisciplinary ways of working – especially in agriculture and forestry - that enhance SPC’s impact with our members like yourselves.
The “convergence of crises” – the COVID pandemic and recovery efforts, climate change and natural disasters, NCDs, high cost of food – will continue to confront us. However, the deliberations from this week, the re-connections and establishing of partnerships, places us all in a renewed position to reflect on where we can make the biggest difference; and most importantly, mobilize calls for action to work with SPC to address the complexities of food systems approaches.
This is where your leadership is valued. I understand from today’s meeting papers that the aim of this meeting is to provide strong strategic leadership to position agriculture and forestry more strongly in the regional agenda and guide the work of your development partners including SPC, your organisation. Also to strengthen ownership and coordination, and to provide direction on some key issues that will support your national priorities and common goals for agriculture and forestry.
I trust you will make progress on these fronts today, and I wish you an impactful, and enjoyable discussion ahead, and look forward to closer collaboration in the future. Lastly I am sure you all join me in wishing our colleagues and friends in Vanuatu well for their recovery efforts and continue to hold them in your thoughts and prayers.