It is for good reason that the second Sustainable Development Goal of Zero Hunger is second only to No Poverty.
One would think that if we have no poverty we will eliminate hunger, and that is largely true. But what we call hunger and food insecurity do not only stem from poverty. They can be caused by conflicts, by natural disasters, economic crises, and now increasingly by climate change and rampant disease.
We use terms like hunger and food insecurity to describe a broad range of conditions, from horrible starvation to the more common situation in the world, which is that there are too many people who don’t get enough nutrition to live a minimally productive and secure life.
The United Nations estimates that nearly 690 million people in the world are undernourished, an increase of 10 million in one year. At this rate, we will not wipe out hunger by 2030. In fact, if we don’t arrest this trend, we could have more than 800 million hungry people in the world by the 2030 SDG deadline. After decades of steady decline, this reversal is a tragic setback for those most vulnerable.
There are many reasons for this. But climate change and the global COVID-19 pandemic are some of the most serious.
These twin crises are entrenching inequality and exacerbating the existing socio-economic challenges across the world—and Small Island Developing States like Fiji have not been spared.
The call by the UN Secretary General to convene a Food System is an acknowledgment of the reality that we risk falling short on all the Sustainable Development Goals if we cannot achieve a healthy, sustainable and equitable food system.
The COVID-19 pandemic has spawned a vicious cycle of disrupted supply chains, devastated industries, reduced incomes, and higher retail prices, all of which has forced families to make trade-offs in both the quantity and quality of their food.
For some families, this leads to insufficient calories as well as insufficient variety and quality. For others, it can lead to overdependence on convenient and affordable processed foods that contribute to the increase in Non-Communicable Diseases, which have disproportionate and devastating effect on Pacific Island Countries.
It is a terrible shame that in the midst of an ocean teeming with life and on islands with fertile soil and a favourable climate, Pacific island states have some of the highest rates of diabetes in the world.
With COVID-19 now putting food systems under strain as global food supply chains are disrupted, this is the time to grow our way towards a sustainable, healthy food system that can guarantee that our people have the enough high-quality food to guarantee a healthy and fulfilling life. We cannot solve the global food crisis, but we can resolve it in our corner of the world.
A resilient food system will be critical, and a resilient system includes what we produce, what we import and what we export. We will be challenged to find hardy crops that can withstand spikes in temperature or periods of drought and inundation.
A resilient agricultural system will be diverse, so that we are not overly dependent on only a few crops. And our agriculture sector grows, we will not be overly dependent on a few economic sectors either. Some growers may find that they can do a lot better growing other, more lucrative crops, and we will want to help any farmer who wants to make that change.
And we want more young people to venture into farming so that we can create the commercial scale necessary to compete in the global market for exports. In Fiji, we have the climate, we have a reputable national brand for quality, and we have the ability to farm new crops and traditional staples. We need to grant more of our farmers the stability and security of long-term tenure of agricultural leases so they can pursue commercial opportunities in earnest. By harnessing those advantages and aligning incentives, we can make the domestic and regional markets part of a nutrition-secure Pacific. The more we can trade among ourselves in the region, the less we will have to rely on global supply chains, the more resilient all of us will be.
Leading up to the upcoming Global Summit in September and as part of our preparation, the Ministry of Agriculture has been convening a series of national dialogues covering five action tracks: On ensuring access to safe and nutritious food for all, shifting to sustainable consumption patterns, boosting nature-positive production, advancing equitable livelihoods and building resilience to vulnerabilities, shocks and stress. Similar dialogues are being conducted worldwide.
Certainly, Government’s social safety net plays an important part in ensuring that ALL Fijians have access to safe and nutritious food.
And our support for small enterprises is a way of engaging all Fijians in food production and enabling more Fijians to feed themselves and their families. So we can see that any successful effort to ensure food security will require science, agriculture, fisheries and Government policy to work hand in hand.
I congratulate the National Convener and his team for the efforts undertaken to engage people and institutions at all levels of our society, because securing our food supply is too important to leave anyone out of the discussion. We will need a set of solutions that is both comprehensive and targeted to the specific ways we need to strengthen our food systems.
It will take years for Fiji and our neighbours— and other counties like us—to fully recover from the economic and social effects of the pandemic. But there is no reason why we can’t begin guaranteeing our people an adequate diet now. With this in mind, we must accelerate our work to develop and secure wards a dynamic, market-sensitive and resilient food system.
It is my hope that our actions will combine with actions by other countries of all sizes and at all levels of development to build a resilient and accessible Food System globally and here in the Pacific.
It is a job for everyone: the State, the private sector, the educators, the researchers, our development partners, our local communities and families. We all have a role to play in the process of building more resilient, sustainable and nutritious food systems because that will be a major step toward guaranteeing all Fijians, and all Pacific Islanders, food and nutrition security.
I wish you a productive discussion, and I look forward to learning the ideas that you develop.
Vinaka vakalevu. Thank you.