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Food Security: the impact on Small Island States

Updated: Sep 18, 2022

New data released this week shows the sea level around New Zealand is rising twice as fast as previously thought, massively reducing the amount of time authorities have to respond and putting the country's two largest cities at risk decades earlier than expected. The fact Aotearoa is a tectonically active country explains part of the story; the other part is climate change.

Countries in the Pacific are often viewed as the 'canary in the coalmine' for the climate crisis, with the area suffering from king tides, cyclones, increasing salinity, sustained droughts and low-lying nations at risk from rising sea levels.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has starkly explained that global heating above 1.5C 'would be catastrophic' for Pacific island nations leading to the potential loss of entire countries.

The reality of Climate-induced migration

Climate-induced migration has already begun, with people across the region forced to leave several island groups that are disappearing or becoming uninhabitable due to rising sea levels.

As the former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said, "If you are a Pacific Islander and your home is going to be washed away from rising sea levels caused by global warming, then this is not a political issue, it's an existential one."

As we head towards the 30th anniversary of Rio, it was only ten years ago that the outcome document of Rio+20, "The Future We Want" (United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, June 2012), acknowledged that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) remain a special case for sustainable development.

The Assembly also recognised that eradicating poverty, promoting sustainable consumption and production, and protecting and managing natural resources, are the overarching objectives and essential requirements for sustainable development and supporting existing communities to be resilient in the face of devastating change.

Food security and nutrition are strong defences, and as we have seen with the war in Ukraine and Covid19, food security is easily disrupted and has global consequences. Here in New Zealand, as in the UK, Africa, the Caribbean and so on, food prices have risen rapidly, putting pressure on households.

The pressing issue of Food Security

For Small Island Developing States worldwide, Food security is even more pressing.

For these nations, climate adaptation strategies are crucial. With marine ecosystems threatened by acidification and increased salinity on land, SIDS need support and investment to innovate, reduce their reliance on food imports and strengthen their food security position to make their communities more resilient to global shocks.

In most cases, farming is primarily small-scale and dependent upon family and women's labour. There has been limited investment in commercial agriculture and improving agricultural technology.

Yet Small Island Developing States possess a wealth of food traditions which have the potential to connect people, culture, knowledge, and the natural environment to improve each nation's food security and overall sustainability of these communities.

Up to 80% of the food consumed by the tourism industry in Pacific islands is imported, and a similar situation can be found in most SIDS. Using innovative ways to develop the traditional staple food crops, including root and tubers, plantains and breadfruits, and tropical fruits, has the potential to reduce food imports and contribute to improved economic development. Add in support to value chains, which includes research and enhancing production, then on-farm productivity and processing efficiency increase, and improved livelihoods and food security.

Food chains must become sustainable

Governments around the world acknowledge that the food chain must change. Thailand is committed to the Bio-Circular-Green Economy (BCG) model; Singapore is focused on the '30 by 30 goal' to produce 30% of the nation's nutritional needs locally by 2030.

While a supportive policy environment is vital, unlocking the private sector's potential is fundamental.

All players from entrepreneurs, agricultural producer organisations, cooperatives, small and medium-sized enterprises, and international corporations need to be engaged. While finance needs to be redirected, partnerships between these players will result in knowledge transfer and innovation, job creation and alternative revenue streams - pre-requisites for implementing the 2030 Agenda.

The power of partnerships to achieve the sustainable development goals

Partnerships that transcend the north/south divide or south/ south alignment that are genuinely global are urgently needed for the transformative change required to create a sustainable economy for all.

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