The shift is triggered, in part, by high food prices and costs of importing food to remote, small islands in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Africa, but also a renewed focus by small island countries on agriculture, sustainable development, and the global Green Economy, said Michael Hailu of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) at a meeting of leading experts and advocates from over 50 small island countries gathered in Mauritius this week.
Organized by CTA and hosted by the Government of Mauritius, the conference, Small Island Economies: From Vulnerabilities to Opportunities, is the seventh Regional Policy meeting to review and discuss key issues and challenges for rural development faced by African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.
Including countries such as Barbados, Cape Verde, Fiji, Haiti, Jamaica, Mauritius, and Papua New Guinea, the United Nations currently classifies 52 countries and territories as Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Home to more than 50 million people, it is a diverse group of 43 countries located in Africa, the Caribbean and Pacific regions. The group includes relatively rich middle-income countries, but also some of the poorest countries in the world.
In addition to large domestic stocks of fish and other seafood, small islands states produce a variety of fruits, root crops and vegetables. On many islands, agricultural production systems are already stressed as a consequence of competition for land from other sectors such as tourism, aging farming population and cheap imported food. Over-reliance on food imports, climate change-associated increase in the likelihood of stronger, more frequent extreme weather eventsparticularly hurricanes and tropical stormscould potentially make matters worse, according to participants.
Boosting local food production, particularly traditional food crops like yams, taro, arrow root, and other fruits and vegetables and connecting farmers to lucrative domestic markets is the best way to combat poverty, while reducing small islands vulnerability. There are health benefits as well, added Hailu.
Caribbean English-speaking countries have over the last thirty years experienced an unprecedented transition. Malnutrition in children and infectious diseases, once the major public health problems, have considerably declined and replaced by obesity and so-called diseases of affluence such as diabetes, hypertension, coronary heart disease and cancers.
Small farmers and small island states will never compete on volume and price, so we must come together to produce larger volumes, said Don Keith Amiel of the Caribbean Agribusiness Association.
Jamaica, with an estimated population of 2.7 million, receives over three million tourists annually. In response to tourist demand for eggs and pork products at up-market hotels and resorts, mainly sausage and bacon, farmers and processers intensified pig production and invested heavily in technologies and processing innovations. Today, the majority of eggs and pork products consumed domestically and by tourists in Jamaica are produced by Jamaican farmers.
Being a small island doesnt mean that we need to think small. We have global superstars like Bob Marley and Usain Bolt. Our alcohol and liquor products are legendary. We are using this recognition to brand our products, he added.
During the so-called banana wars, raw bananas from Caribbean countries, including Jamaica were blocked from the Europe market, noted Amiel.
Instead of focusing on negative impacts of this policy change, weve focused our energy on processing raw bananas into chips. The market for these chips in Europe is now ten times the market for raw bananas, he said.
This is one way that the new Green Economy will be different, said Ambassador Shirley Skerritt-Andrew, Chair of the ACP Committee of Ambassadors in Brussels. In the past, weve had top down economic development. The global Green Economy has the potential to be more bottom up, focused on the grassroots, involving communities, and focused on people.
This is a big issue not just for the Caribbean but all small islands, she added.