As with many regions in the world, the Pacific has experienced a challenging 18 months since the COVID-19 pandemic emerged in early 2020. With Pacific countries and territories such as Fiji and French Polynesia currently experiencing serious outbreaks and other Pacific nations still having their resilience tested, communities must look to country and regional leaders to not only recover well, but to “build back better” so that their future is both secure and progressive in the face of coming and unforeseen shocks. In addition to disturbances such as COVID-19, climate change is an established, but unpredictable, shock that will increasingly play a role in the lives and livelihoods of Pacific peoples.
Agriculture and forestry are two sectors vital to national and regional recovery. Last month, the Government Heads of Agriculture and Forestry met virtually to set the course for building back better and discuss upcoming work in these sectors for their major partners – the Pacific Community (SPC) and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The meeting was a critical collaborative effort that pledged intention and new energy to the Pacific’s agriculture and forestry sectors now, and crucially, in a post-COVID environment.
Two topics discussed at the meeting – Pacific food systems and building climate resilience – will be key to agriculture and forestry if the region is to negotiate the high waters of climate change and post-COVID shocks. Collaborative efforts launched at the meeting, such as the Pacific Animal Health and Production Framework that will provide a foundation for institutional strengthening of veterinary and animal production services and guide reforms, investments and new programmes, will help ensure countries and communities are working together for the sector resilience and advancement that are vital for economies and livelihoods.
SPC will guide the Framework under its secretariat role for the Pacific Heads of Veterinary and Animal Production Services network, adding to other regional networks and programmes managed or supported by our Land Resources Division that also were discussed at the meeting, including CePaCT (Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees), the Pacific Soils Portal, the Pacific Data Hub, Pacific Plant Protection Organization and Digital Earth Pacific. As these bodies all have been planning for a Pacific disrupted by accelerating climate change, they are now also addressing COVID-19, pandemics and other disruptions.
With the dark clouds of COVID still hanging over the region, the meeting looked both back, to tradition and culture, and forward, to digitalization and innovation, to deliberate on food systems advancement that will feed Pacific peoples and economies. A series of national and regional dialogues on the food systems of today and the future were held in the lead-up to the gathering and in preparation for the inaugural United Nations Food Systems Summit, highlighting how farmers and food workers are pulling from both traditional agriculture and apps and new digital approaches to foster a uniquely Pacific model that can have impact beyond our shores.
Meeting and dialogues outcomes will help raise the Pacific’s profile at Food Systems Summit, due to be held in New York on September 23 this year. The Summit’s ambitious agenda seeks to launch bold new actions, solutions and strategies to deliver progress on all 17 Sustainable Development Goals, each of which relies on healthier, more sustainable and more equitable food systems.
As large ocean states and territories are on the frontlines of climate change, they must innovate to feed their people today, tomorrow and beyond. They must focus inward, on malnutrition and rising obesity rates, while also projecting outward, to boost their economies, absorb leading knowledge and technologies and provide examples for resiliency that impact agriculture and forestry beyond the region. Stepping back and stepping forward – calling on the strengths and expertise of the traditional and the contemporary – will be imperative to connect the region’s resources, wisdom and learning.
The Pacific Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services meeting will inform the Pacific’ narrative as we engage in the Food Systems Summit and its processes. These conversations should link to Pacific peoples while also apprising the international arena. As Pacific governments tackle COVID and continue to advance against climate change, the reflection, dialogue and advocacy must continue apace. Raising our region’s profile at the UN Food Systems Summit will help ensure the Pacific way in agriculture and forestry has the acknowledgement and needed resources to help provide bounty and security in our communities for decades to come.