In the densely populated area of South Tarawa in Kiribati, many households spend most of their income on buying food for their families.
“This rises to 50 percent for households in the outer islands and in many other island countries, they spend up to 70 percent of their income on food, said Papua New Guinea’s foreign affairs minister, Sam Abal, who presented the Pacific Islands Forum’s paper on food security to post Forum Dialogue partners in Niue last week.
“At household level, families are already beginning to struggle and will face difficult tradeoffs to make ends meet.
“Those that are able to may respond to higher prices by growing more but households may also respond to higher prices by switching to less nutritious food, exacerbating our health problems, or cutting back on other expenses for basic goods and service such as school fees and health care costs.”
Mr Abal said reliance on imported food has contributed to our deteriorating health and escalating rates of diabetes, obesity and hear diseases.
Using Kiribati as an example, Mr Abal said despite government subsidies, a 20 kilogramme of rice that was AUD$16 last year has now increased to AUD$21 in June and AUD$28 in July.
“In Fiji, rice has increased by around 50 percent and flour by 20 percent since the beginning of the year. In Samoa, flour has increased by 60 percent over the same period.” Mr Abal said.
He said the ‘culture of giving and sharing with family and traditional knowledge of farming and food preparation, can help reduce the impact of rising food process.
“The sustainability of this way of life, however, is under threat from changing consumer habits and rural-urban drift.
“We therefore need to face up to the fact that higher food prices are here to stay.”
“Many of our countries are blessed with a rich diversity of traditional staple – taro, cassava, sweet potatoes, yams and breadfruit. Increased production of these local foods could help to limit the impact of rising prices, improve our health, support incomes in rural areas and reduce urban drift.
If donors are to assist Pacific Island Countries, Mr Abal suggested that they strengthen infrastructure such as regional shipping, communications and quarantine services that support regional trade to improve export and income generation opportunities for farmers.
“Climate change is likely to increase the intensity and frequency of these disasters and will lead to increased coastal erosion and saltwater inundation, which will further undermine food production.
“Ocean warming and coral bleaching will reduce the productivity of coastal fisheries on which many island communities rely as a source of food and income. Population pressures are also increasing the demand for food.
To overcome these existing constraints, Pacific Leaders urged donors to work with regional governments, private sector, civil societies and regional agencies to develop a policy framework to address food security issues in the Pacific….PNS (ENDS)