Helping hands for Small Island Developing States

China Daily, September 02, 2021
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Nearly 30 years ago, given their unique environmental and developmental needs, Small Island Developing States were recognized as a special category at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. The SIDS are a group of developing countries characterized by small populations and numerous atolls spanning geographic regions-the Caribbean, the Pacific, the Atlantic, Indian Ocean, Mediterranean and South China Sea.

Although small individually, when looked at as a whole, the population of the SIDS represent 1 percent of the world's inhabitants, or around 65 million people.

But these islanders face unique social, economic and environmental challenges due to the inherent vulnerabilities of the SIDS, including their small geographic size, their remoteness, the disproportionate impact climate change is having on their ecosystems, biodiversity loss and narrowing of their resource base.

With limited arable land, many of the SIDS are dependent on small-scale agriculture and ocean resources. They also rely heavily on imported foods, often foods that are processed with high amounts of sugar and salt content, leading to health issues. Statistics from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations show that almost all Caribbean and Pacific SIDS import over 60 percent of food; 50 percent of islands import over 80 percent. Despite the food availability through imports, levels of hunger across the SIDS remains at alarming 17 percent. The COVID-19 pandemic is further threatening the food security, nutrition and climate resilience of the SIDS.

Their collective GDP shrank by 6.9 percent in 2020 versus 4.8 percent for that of the other developing countries. This is mainly due to global contractions in two ocean economy sectors that are key to many of the SIDS: coastal tourism and fishery. For two out of three SIDS, tourism accounts for 20 percent or more of their GDP, according to an Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development report. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the United Nations World Tourism Organization estimates that international tourist arrivals declined by 47 percent in the SIDS from January to April 2020, and warned that the road to recovery is set to be long and uncertain. The fishery sector has also been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, adversely affecting domestic employment and nutrition.

In this challenging context, South-South and Triangular Cooperation has the opportunity to step in and demonstrate its unique advantages by addressing the agriculture, food, nutrition, environment and health issues of the SIDS. SSTC can enable the SIDS to acquire and adopt relevant solutions from other countries that have more recent experience in tackling development issues in similar socioeconomic contexts and agro-ecological zones.

The FAO has identified and mobilized knowledge, skills, and experience from developing countries to support the SIDS in scaling up both adaption and mitigation measures in the agricultural sector. In 2013, it supported the Samoa Farmers' Association to conduct a biogas feasibility study including a field trip to biogas cities in China. On that basis, China's Biogas Institute of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs and the SFA, supported by other development partners, have brought China's sustainable animal waste management technologies to Samoa through the China-Samoa Agricultural Technical Aid Project (2018-19). On completion, 21 animal waste digesters were shipped to Samoa and operated locally, and a total of 22 trainees have enhanced their skills under the tutelage of Chinese experts. Economically and socially, the project resulted in savings of around $25 on a household's average monthly cost of liquefied petroleum gas and relieved women from hard work of firewood collection.

Going forward, in promoting the Global Action Programme on Food Security and Nutrition in the SIDS, the FAO should also utilize the SSTC to promote sustainable and localized food and agricultural systems across the SIDS. Many completed and ongoing SSTC activities have promoted knowledge sharing, technical exchanges for enhancing traditional production systems, developing integrated approaches to pest, land and water management, and reviving interest in nutrient-rich traditional food crops such as root and tuber crops, plantains, and breadfruits across the SIDS.

Previous experience and achievements have further generated concrete recommendations on leveraging SSTC to promote sustainable agricultural development in the SIDS in the post COVID-19 era.

First, more proven solutions could be harnessed through the SIDS Solution Platform and be shared, exchanged, and practiced in other SIDS under the SSTC mechanism. On the occasion of the high-level SIDS Solutions Forum that was held on Aug 30 to 31, organized by FAO and co-hosted by the Government of Fiji, this is an opportunity for more proven solutions to be shared, exchanged, and practiced in other SIDS countries under the SSTC mechanism.

For instance, in Samoa, female farmers are leveraging social media to expand their access to the local vegetable, fruit and handicraft markets. Most of these initiatives are launched in countries such as Fiji, Samoa and Vanuatu because of their unique capacities. There is an opportunity to nurture and scale up such initiatives to other SIDS through the SSTC. There are also many science and technology initiatives in Asia, Africa and the SIDS across the globe that could contribute to sustainable and resilient agri-food systems.

Second, the SSTC should and will continue to align with the SIDS' development priorities and respond to the unique challenges they face. The SIDS are among the least responsible of all nations for climate change but are among the hardest hit. The SIDS are also among the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is disrupting key sectors that the SIDS' undiversified and already fragile economies strongly rely upon. Globally, all SIDS could benefit significantly from exchanges of knowledge and technologies.

Third, being positioned as a global advocate and partner for SSTC, the FAO plays a unique role in grouping multiple stakeholders together to promote sustainable food and agricultural development in the SIDS. According to the OECD, the total support for the COVID-19 crisis to the SIDS in 2020 is conservatively estimated at $2.8 billion. The FAO is mobilizing finance from resource partners to work on addressing capacity and investment through horizontal Southern Partnerships (it refers to partnerships driven by global south countries and among global south countries that are recognized horizontal). Additionally, it is also working with island governments to improve productivity and efficiency at each stage of the food value chain, especially by exploring the potential impact of public-private business models and engaging the broad range of stakeholders involved in getting products from farm to fork.

The author is a special advisor at the Food and Agriculture Organization Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific. TThe views do not necessarily reflect those of China's Rural Vitalization.