Nadi, Fiji – In their first meeting since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Heads of Agriculture and Forestry for Pacific Countries tackled an ambitious agenda set on transforming the sectors to create thriving and resilient communities for the future.
The meeting held on 9 March during the Pacific Week of Agriculture and Forestry (PWAF) with the theme Growing Together: Transforming Pacific Agriculture and Forestry, brought together 22 Pacific nations and territories that are members of the Pacific Community (SPC). The meeting was chaired by the government of Fiji with support from SPC and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Vanuatu was not able to attend due to ongoing recovery from the disastrous back-to-back cyclones Judy and Kevin, unfortunate reminders of the region’s perilous position in the face of climate change and increasing calamity.
“The Pacific region is unique,” said Dr Vinesh Kumar, Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Fiji, in his opening remarks. “Yet, when we look closely, we are facing some of the same challenges as other regions, such as climate change, emerging pests and diseases, and threats to our biodiversity. We need to have discussions in different spheres at different levels so there is no asymmetry in our work.”
In addition to climate change, the meeting covered a few current issues considered vital for thriving agriculture and forestry-based economies of the future, including the development of Pacific agriculture and forestry strategy, a regional research agenda that will produce invaluable knowledge for strategic planning and initiative, a review of the current Pacific Soils Partnership, and food and nutrition security.
While reporting on technical networks SPC hosts such as the Pacific Plant Protection Organization and the Pacific Organic Agriculture and Trade Community (POETCom) were also covered, SPC's Land Resources Division Director Karen Mapusua stressed in her remarks that the Heads and their Ministries are providing strategic leadership of the agriculture and forestry work in the region.
“You and your ministries, your collective knowledge and experience, are the cornerstone,” said Ms Mapusua. “Not only of our Blue and Green Pacific food system, but also our climate change response, the application of better science and leading-edge technology, and the agriculture and forestry sectors’ contribution to our leaders' vision as expressed in the 2050 strategy for the Blue Pacific Continent.”
Ms Xiangjin Yao, FAO Subregional Coordinator for the Pacific Islands spoke of the importance of collaboration in moving agriculture and forestry forward. “FAO values the contribution of regional entities, such as SPC, SPREP, PIFS, and others to Pacific countries and the trust member nations have shown in it,” she said in her opening remarks. “By combining our strengths and resources, we will be able to create new opportunities, expand our reach, and contribute to the growth and development of respective sectors for the member countries in the Pacific.”
The Fiji Ministry of Forestry echoed the importance of the Heads meeting and the necessity of close collaboration in its closing statement. “The need to work together, to grow together, to transform agriculture and forestry, is greater now more than ever. Using science and technology to develop circular green economies is needed and the various side-events at PWAF highlighted many of our issues and different ways to address them.”
The meeting adjourned with agreement on carrying the Pacific-wide agriculture and forestry strategy forward and taking the next steps on the agenda for regional research. Agriculture and Forestry Heads also agreed to partner on a joint submission to the UNFCCC agriculture workstream. The submission will highlight a strong commitment to shared action against common climate challenges, ensuring the Pacific has a seat at the table in upcoming global climate consultations.