|We are what we eat|
|Thursday, 22 April 2010 12:00|
A radical rethink is needed on food if the Pacific is going to secure access to healthy, safe, high quality and nutritious food for all.
Port Vila, Vanuatu 21 April 2010- Each day, each one of us has something to do with food: a farmer grows it, a fisherman catches it, an importer brings it in on boats, retailers sell it, consumers buy it, governments guide how well these systems work and we all eat it.
Yet none of us has full control over food. Making sure every person has secure access to healthy, safe, high quality and nutritious food is everybody's business.
The Pacific Food Summit, 21-23 April, Port Vila, Vanuatu, has brought together leaders from across the Pacific: from governments, industry, NGOs, development agencies, the media and community groups, in recognition that a radical rethink is necessary in order to improve food security for the Pacific.
"Food security has been recognised by all Pacific leaders as being vitally important to the health and development of the Pacific. Food security is included as an action item in the Pacific Plan and I'm delighted to welcome participants to Vanuatu to discuss the next steps together," said His Excellency, the Acting Prime Minister of Vanuatu, and the Honourable Mr Serge Vohor.
"Under review will be the loss of agricultural land, the impact of climate change on food production, dependence on imported food, over-fishing, lifestyle changes and rising food prices. Related to some of these issues are the increasingly critical problems of lifestyle illnesses such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer."
Speaking from the Summit, the World Health Organization's (WHO) Regional Director for the Western Region, Dr Shin Young-soo, provided further evidence of the impact of food insecurity on the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases in the Pacific.
"Clinics and hospitals in the Pacific are full of people suffering from nutrition-related non communicable diseases (NCDs). WHO data show that 75% of adults are obese in American Samoa, Nauru and Tokelau, 45% in the Marshall Islands, and 33% in Solomon Islands.
"Rates of type 2 diabetes are correspondingly high - over 40% in some countries and we also know that in many Pacific island countries, less than 60% of infants are exclusively breastfed at 6 months of age and that the prevalence of iron-deficiency anaemia is reported to be 20% or greater in both children and pregnant women in 15 of 16 Pacific island countries and areas.
"Our hope for this Summit is that governments will confirm their commitment to immediate action to address food security issues nationally and, where possible, regionally through a range of measures across key sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, trade and transport," commented Dr Shin.
Traditionally, the Pacific achieved food security through sustainable agricultural and fishing practices and a reliance on local staples such as root and tubers, bananas and breadfruits. More recently, imported foods have helped contribute to food security by meeting a growing demand for more food and a greater variety of foods. However, food security in the Pacific is under threat.
"The 2008 jump in food prices was a wake up call to countries who rely heavily on food imports and renewed the necessity for a call to urgent action," observed Mr Feleti Teo, Deputy Secretary General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS).
"This vulnerability of the Pacific region has been highlighted by the dramatic increases in food prices seen within the region in the past few years. Now more than ever, concerted effort needs to be channelled into food security as the lack of, and supply of nutritious food and the increasing low quality of some imported foods threatens our Pacific livelihood."
"PIFS is a strong advocate for collective responses and the need for effective coordination of development resources together with good governance practices to strengthen our efforts to address the issue of food security; which will in turn improve the quality and standard of living for the people of the Pacific. The Pacific Plan provides a strong regional framework for collaboration and cooperation and it is my hope that we will all keep to the values and principles espoused in it during the course of our deliberations at this important summit," says Mr Teo.
The Secretariat for Pacific Community (SPC) shared the concern of those at the Summit. "The issue of land: ownership, access and usage also play a vital role in food security," remarked Dr Jimmie Rodgers, Director General of Secretariat of Pacific Community.
"In addition, urbanization and high population growth rates (in excess of 2% in Melanesian countries), and limited available land for agricultural activities in Micronesian and atoll countries along with stagnant agricultural productivity in many countries is severely challenging existing farming systems to produce enough food to meet the needs of our growing populations.
"The growing importance of the cash economy and the increasing number of claims on land for other uses as well as land disputes, combined with the gradual erosion of strong family and cultural norms of giving and sharing have all dramatically affected our traditional safety nets. It's time to re-discover our roots and invest in assuring a healthy Pacific for all," Dr Rodgers said.
The Pacific cannot afford the health consequences of food insecurity. Acute care for NCDs is very expensive and the economic impact of early death and disability, before age 65, is staggering. By compromising the nutritional status and health of Pacific people, food insecurity reduces productivity and drains government resources. Ultimately, food insecurity contributes to the Pacific's burden of poverty and retards national development.
"It is my hope that the Summit will conclude with a unanimous commitment to a Framework for Action for improved food security including a focus on leadership, regulation and enforcement, sustainable production, processing and trade, the protection of infants and vulnerable groups, consumer empowerment, and building a food security information system," he said.
"Healthy islands are food secure, and we seek a renewed commitment to this vision," concluded H.E The Honourable Serge Vohor....PNS (ENDS)