Your Excellency, President of Fiji, our hosts, the Government of Fiji, the FAO Subregional Coordinator for the Pacific Islands, Heads of Agriculture and Forestry, esteemed colleagues, partners, and friends.
It is my great pleasure to welcome you to the Seventh Annual Pacific Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Meeting. It is great to see, and hear, all of you and I am looking forward to our progress as a collective over the next three days.
First, however, I would like to acknowledge the people and communities of Fiji, where SPC’s Land Resources Division is headquartered, and other Pacific countries that continue to confront great challenges due to the global COVID-19 Pandemic.
The reach of COVID’s impact has been far and wide and we are sad to report the passing of former director of our Land Resources Division - Inoke Ratukalou. Many of you will have worked with him having joined SPC in 2006, becoming director in 2013 before retiring in 2017. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.
Colleagues and partners in Fiji and at LRD have also suffered illness and loss, and we send our hearts, solidarity and strength to them as they greet each day.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has forever altered our region over the past year and a half, and that our “new normal” in agriculture and forestry is still emerging. However, I also have no doubt that government ministries, FAO, and our other partners have held steady and are looking forward to building a better, more resilient future for our farmers, foresters, producers and traders.
Pacific agriculture and forestry has persevered. And beyond this perseverance, COVID 19 has highlighted the critical role of these sectors in ensuring our communities are resilient to disruptions and disasters. As we come together this week, we have the opportunity to take a step beyond a “new normal” to jump start innovative ideas and initiatives in our fields, forests and markets and further strengthen the important role agriculture and forestry play.
This innovation will not only rely on your highest endeavors, but also bringing our young people on board and ensuring they follow in our positive footsteps. The Pacific is a growing region with youth that have an increasing number of distractions. But these youth are our future, and we should continue to work to include them, instilling values that lead to the stewardship of our land, rivers and seas.
And though these youth will also gravitate towards technology – which provides a valuable framework for our agriculture and forestry practices – we must also not forget the foundation: our past practices. Our culture and traditions that have fed, housed and provided solace to our communities for generations.
The Pacific is rooted in tradition, yet also open to technological advance. This unique juxtaposition of old and wise and new and open has helped our region as generational challenges such as climate change have come to our shores and opened our doors. We all know we are on the frontlines of climate change, and unforeseen adversities such as the current pandemic have heightened the urgency of change. Of innovation.
SPC and LRD are focusing on innovation as the lead organization and division for Pacific dialogues in the lead-up to the first ever UN Food Systems Summit, to be held in New York in September. Our agriculture and forestry traditions, initiatives and innovations are examples not only for the region, but the world. The Pacific should have a prominent seat at the table in New York. With this meeting we can reiterate our unique and valuable standing in agriculture and forestry to an audience beyond our green fields, forests and blue seas.
I know that LRD will be your partner in these “build back better” endeavours at every step, and we look forward to this week’s reporting on major programmes and regional public goods over which SPC has custodianship, such as CePaCT – The Centre for Pacific Crops and Trees – the Pacific Data Hub, and networks we host such as the Pacific Plant Protection Organization, and others. We also look forward to hearing about new projects and products, such as the fresh off the press LRD annual reports from 2019 and 2020 that not only provide an overview of their work, but look ahead to the following year.
This reporting on progress since the last HOAFs will precede valuable discussions on regional architecture for agriculture and forestry, a proposed Pacific agriculture and forestry strategy and a regional research agenda, in addition to country updates that we are all looking forward to.
And I am really looking forward to day three, when we will close our discussions by looking ahead, tackling the greatest challenges our region faces as I have mentioned: food systems for health and nutrition and building climate resilience in agriculture and forestry.
In the Pacific, our traditions and culture honour our history while providing that spark for us to progress. I trust we will continue on this path at this gathering in the face of our current unprecedented challenges. We are here to help secure a resilient future for our communities, and as we keep in mind our colleagues, families and friends that continue to endure the grievous COVID-19 storm, we can step forward with purpose and confidence.
I wish you all a productive and enterprising gathering, and let’s set the tone for thriving agriculture and forestry practice for the next two years and beyond.