Bula Vinaka and Welcome to the International Sugar Organization (ISO) Workshop and the 60th ISO Council Meeting.
I want to thank Jose Orive –the International Sugar Organization’s Executive Director –– for his leadership. When we last met at the COP26 side event last November, I assured him that Fiji would be proud to host both the 2022 mid-year Workshop and 60th Council Meeting. While we have preferred to host this workshop in-person, we’ve settled for a virtual workshop due to the unavoidable global challenges that many of our member countries continue to face.
While some of the economic ramifications of the pandemic are certainly still with us, I’m pleased to say Fiji has put the worst of the crisis behind us. Virtually our entire adult population is fully vaccinated and more are being boosted every day. We are fully open to travel and have welcomed over 205,000 visitors since December. In short, Fiji is open for business and I hope you all know how welcome you are to visit our islands.
My friends, millions of the citizens of the ISO member states rely on the sugar industry and on these discussions to support the livelihoods that they and their families depend on. These hard-working people are concerned about what they rightly see as threats to the long-term sustainability of cane growing and sugar production. They are unnerved by pricing volatility –– especially the skyrocketing costs of inputs. And they are anxious about the strength of a long-standing pillar of many of our economies. Indeed, sugar is among the world economy’s oldest commodities.
We can tell a confidence-inspiring story about its future if we meet this moment of challenge with equal amounts of cooperation, innovation, and solidarity.
For Fiji’s part, our economy’s reliance on sugar is not what it was 30 or 40 years ago. That is a natural progression as cane growing has given way to other growing sectors of our diversifying economy. But through that transition, our commitment to the farmers behind this industry has never wavered, nor will it ever –– in fact, in terms of raw support, our commitment to the success of our growers has never been worth more. Because of that support, we remain a proud and productive cane-growing country that is wholly committed to our place in a sustainable world sugar economy. And we are proud to assume the chairmanship role of this 60th ISO Council Meeting and host this mid-year virtual workshop.
The ISO is the convening entity for sugar-producing countries. It is a platform for discussion; a safety net for those most vulnerable; and a research body at the cutting edge of solutions. The theme for this year’s Workshop is a timely one –– “Resilience – a way for a sustainable sugar industry”.
Make no mistake, the resilience of every cane grower is being tested as we speak. The price of fertilizer is up almost double that before the pandemic. Russia’s senseless and bloody invasion of Ukraine is spurring the largest commodity shock since the 1970 –– throwing fuel on the fire of an input-price crisis that is made worse by sanctions on Belarus and the export restrictions imposed by China, the largest exporter of di-ammonium Phosphate fertiliser.
Farmers aren’t only paying more for their inputs –– they live under the spectre of a single climate disaster erasing entire acreages overnight. Every year, these risks will rise.
For this among countless other reasons, Fiji is consistently resolute in calling for climate action. And as leaders who represent cane growers, I demand that you defend their interests by cutting the carbon emissions that we know are responsible for the storms, rising seas, and changing weather patterns that threaten the livelihoods of every farmer on Earth –– cane growers included.
For Fiji’s part, cyclones alone have cost our sugar industry more than $200 million since 2016. After particularly brutal cyclone seasons in 2016 and 2020, our cane production capacity declined by one-third. That was mainly due to crop losses and damage sustained to mills and other infrastructure. Aside from spending millions on rehabilitating and building the resilience of the industry, the Fijian Government heavily subsidises input costs like fertiliser, invests heavily in industry-related research, including resilient crop production, provides grants and subsidies, and funds capital programs aimed at increasing sugar cane planting and production, improving and increasing the rate of mechanization.
Sustainability is only possible through sustained profits for cane growers. Resilience isn’t only a means to that end, it is the only means that guarantees sustainability for the industry in this century.
Every member state faces unique challenges. But our goal of global resilience is shared. We can cooperate to devise collective strategies that marshal our resources and ingenuity to solve the most pressing challenges this industry faces globally. More droughttolerant cane varieties, for example, mean as much in the driest regions of Fiji’s “burning west” as they do in the more arid growing areas of Thailand and other countries that face similar challenges brought by a warming world.
As decision-makers, we need to work together to maintain and improve sugarcane yields despite these here-and-now impacts on our growers.
That can happen through multi-disciplinary approaches, such as the development of new sugarcane cultivars using breeding and molecular biology, refining best management practices, and improving technology transfer. Improving the resilience of sugarcane production systems to climate change, in particular, requires stronger protection of our precious natural resources like water and soil. And to ensure long-term financial sustainability, we should also become more ambitious and pursue new uses for sugarcane products such as ethanol, cellulosic biofuel, and other co-products that can open new revenue streams.
I urge member countries to continue the good work of sharing resources and funding, knowledge, and know-how. We do have some “giants” among us who can lend invaluable support to smaller producers, like Fiji. The solidarity of the world’s largest cane producers, and the world’s largest sugar markets, is essential to ensure a level playing field, now more than ever.
Capacity-building is one important way we can ensure that no members are left behind in this resilience-building effort. And we urge the International Sugar Organization Head Office to strongly exercise its administrative role to organize or co-ordinate more opportunities for capacity building and human capital investment across and amongst member countries.
More educational programs should be available to industry players in our member countries. These can be as simple as short training sessions or work attachments or as ambitious as more regular intergovernmental forums among sugar-producing countries.
The next few days of the Workshop and Council Meeting are an opportunity to reflect on lessons learned and share experiences as we look forward to a resilient and sustainable future for this industry that so many of our citizens rely on.
I wish our delegates and participants of the 2022 midyear International Sugar Organization Workshop successful discussions that inspire the cooperation, innovation, and solidarity this moment demands.
I now declare the 2022 mid-year International Sugar Organization Workshop open.