|Monday, 22 February 2010 15:45|
Pacific Island countries and territories (PICTs) are geographically, ecologically, sociologically and economically diverse. The region is home to an estimated 9.5 million people on islands with a land area of 550,000 km2 surrounded by the largest ocean in the world. Five of SPC’s 22 member PICTs (Fiji Islands, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu) account for 90 per cent of this total land area and more than 85 per cent of the population. The region is also home to some of the world’s smallest island states and territories, such as Nauru, Tuvalu and Tokelau. The importance of the agriculture and forestry sector in sustaining livelihoods varies greatly.
These sectors remain the mainstay of the economy and employment in Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu and contribute significantly to household income and increasingly, export earnings. In contrast, in some of the smaller PICTs, agriculture is mainly based on subsistence farming and activities in the forest and trees sector involve management of watersheds and coastal forests, and agroforestry development. PICTs face numerous social and physical challenges in maintaining and improving the productivity of their agriculture and forestry sectors and protecting their biological diversity.
They are prone to natural disasters and their size and geographical isolation result in a narrow genetic and production base with limited opportunities to develop their economies by scaling-up production. In the forestrich countries, unsustainable logging in response to shortterm economic needs is destroying valuable forest resources with negative economic, social and environmental impacts on rural communities. Additionally, the drift of youth to urban centres in many PICTs has resulted in shortages of labour in rural areas and increased social problems in towns. Many PICTs also face significant challenges associated with rapidly growing populations. For example, in the smaller PICTs, growing numbers of humans and animals live in close proximity, increasing the risk of zoonotic diseases (diseases transmitted by animals) and pollution caused by agricultural activities (fertiliser run-off, animal waste).
Increased regional and global trade and travel and associated movement of people (tourists, travelling residents, fishers) have also heightened the risk of introducing unwanted plant and animal pests, weeds, diseases and other alien invasive species, threatening the fragile ecosystems and resource base of PICTs. More broadly, PICTs face a number of social challenges that also impact on the land resources sector. For example, rural to urban migration has the potential to reduce agricultural production and increase reliance on imports; and there are strong links between the rising incidence of ‘life-style’ diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and increased consumption of processed foods rather than staple food crops. Climate change will exacerbate many of these challenges.
Related disasters such as tropical cyclones, flash floods and droughts impose serious constraints on development in the islands, so much so that some PICTs seem to be in constant ‘recovery-mode’. Food availability and people’s access to food are among the first essentials to be affected following such disasters. LRD faces the challenge of ensuring its activities support the needs of all of our member countries despite their diversity. The division is keenly aware of the need to address transboundary issues and commonalities and ensure that each member can benefit from lessons learnt in others. We also recognise the need to tailor our approach to the specific concerns of individual member countries and territories, especially when addressing the needs of small island states.