Pacific heads of agriculture and forestry services (HOAFS) meeting this week in Nadi (14–17 September) are focusing on the value of agrobiodiversity in addressing food security, climate change and trade challenges.As the meeting heard, the starting point for taking advantage of Pacific biodiversity is good land use planning, and ensuring that the right crops, trees and livestock breeds are in the right places.

This planning has to be supported by good distribution of planting and breeding material. There is also a need to consider the trade-off between diversity and productivity – high yielding varieties may do well in favourable climatic conditions, but fail when conditions are adverse.

The Secretary of the Cook Islands Ministry of Agriculture, Mr Anthony Brown, emphasised to meeting delegates the need for stronger resolve on the part of heads of agriculture in meeting the challenges faced by the Pacific Islands region and the need to provide support systems to help farmers improve their livelihoods.

‘The region should not take ecosystem services for granted. The Pacific has not suffered from too much intensification of agriculture, unlike other regions, and we should be mindful of this competitive advantage and not lose it’.

‘We need to reflect on our social structures, and our traditional systems of farming which have a minimal impact on the environment. We need to embrace these systems developed over generations by our forefathers. The organics movement, for example, is a reflection of our traditional way of life,’ said Mr Brown.

Delegates acknowledged the projected impacts of climate change on the ability of countries to ensure food security. In this regard, they called on SPC and other agencies to continue providing support to enhance the resilience of agricultural systems.

The issue of urban drift was also raised as a common concern for Pacific Island countries and territories. The meeting heard that for smaller atolls, it is not unusual for over 60% of the population to move to the main island where the capital is located.

The resulting concentration of people in one location impacts on food security. In contrast, less populated outer islands may have an abundance of produce but because of transport problems are unable to get it to markets.

Delegates agreed that national governments should build up the services available beyond the main towns, making rural areas more attractive and encouraging young people to stay on the land.

The issue of young people’s lack of interest in farming or farming-related careers was highlighted and the meeting identified opportunities to address the issue at the school and community level, linking it to the wider issue of promoting and investing in agriculture and forestry development.

More support for local production was stressed as a way to meet increased demands on the food supply. Delegates noted that national food summits and the Pacific Food Summit had strongly encouraged a ‘go local’ approach but agreed that more education and awareness raising was needed to ensure consumers realised the nutritional value of local foods.

Demonstration farms are being used in a number of countries to promote more biological approaches to agriculture, such as organic practices. The benefits of these farms in helping to change the way people think about food security were noted.

Another regional issue raised at the meeting was the need for better animal health services and for more Pacific Islanders to train as veterinarians or paraveterinarians.

Most Pacific Island representatives expressed concern that not enough trained people were available to provide the livestock health and biosecurity services needed to control zoonotic diseases.

Fiji is the host country for the 4the HOAFS meeting. The meeting is being held at the Tanoa Hotel, Nadi, and ends this Friday, 17 September 2010.

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