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Conference discusses climate challenges of islands

Published on www.businesslive.co.za on 23.04.2012

May 29, 2013

Recognising that most small island developing countries are on the front lines of climate change and sustainable development, leading experts and advocates from over 50 countries are gathering in Mauritius this week to discuss the challenges and opportunities for the vulnerable communities and landscapes.

The UN currently classifies 52 countries and territories as "small island developing states" (SIDS), which are home to more than 50 million people. Some of these countries are among the poorest in the world.

SIDS had limited resources that are heavily stressed, and due to a combination of natural, economic and geographic factors, most were only able to export a few products and many had a high dependence on intermediate imports, according to the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).

This makes them vulnerable to climate change, high commodity prices, and volatile markets for agriculture, fisheries and tourism.
However, new opportunities are available to these countries that will enhance their resilience and sustainable development, according to CTA director, Michael Hailu.

"In many SIDS countries there is a renewed role for agriculture to meet food security and nutrition needs.
"This will require promoting local production and consumption by supporting the local farmers and linking agriculture to other sectors such as tourism, ICTs, and bio-energy, mainly the production of ethanol with crops like sugar cane," Hailu said.

"There is usually great competition for land resources among tourism, agriculture and other land uses and the various uses should be carefully planned," he added.

"Agriculture for food security is a priority in Africa, but nutrition, input prices, and trade is more of a critical issue for Caribbean and Pacific countries."
The meeting, Small Island Economies: From Vulnerabilities to Opportunities, held for the first time in Mauritius, is the seventh annual regional policy meeting to discuss key issues and challenges for rural development faced by African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) countries.

The conference is being organised by the CTA and hosted by the Mauritian government.

The event provides a platform for discussion and for the formulation of policies. It aims to raise awareness of the challenges facing SIDS, increase the exchange of information and expertise on areas affecting the SIDS, and facilitate networking among development partners.

The themes are based on four pillars - reducing vulnerability and building resilience to external shocks, adapting to climate change, building a green economy, and enhancing synergies between agriculture and tourism.

More than 100 participants, comprising CEOs, directors, academics, diplomats and experts debated the issues.

"Although small island nations across the ACP regions have significant differences in terms of size, population, social and economic conditions, we all face similar challenges," said ambassador Shirley Skerritt-Andrew, chair of the ACP committee of ambassadors.