The regional meeting, a joint effort of the Pacific Community (SPC), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and hosted by the Government of Samoa, saw participation from Ministers from Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Kiribati, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Island, Tokelau, Tonga and Vanuatu, and Heads of Delegation from American Samoa, Australia, Guam, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Palau, Tuvalu, and Wallis and Futuna.
The meeting allowed ministers to discuss the International Year of Plant Health 2020, which will raise awareness of key agricultural and forestry issues in the Pacific, internationally, regionally and nationally. The Year of Plant Health will provide a platform for PICTS to strengthen and improve collaboration at national levels on commitments and activities that will help amplify the impact of ongoing efforts in the sector, and highlight the importance of securing the Pacific’s rich and unique biodiversity.
In her opening remarks, the Pacific Community’s Deputy Director-General, Dr Audrey Aumua, emphasised the need for strong partnerships and highlighted the importance of endorsing a coordinated and comprehensive strategy. “We have the opportunity to use the International Year of Plant Health to strengthen current platforms for enhancing awareness, build on networks of plant health, biosecurity, and quarantine, and improve the warning systems and response capabilities in our countries.”
The endorsed strategy for 2020 showcases PICTs ‘National Plant Protection Organisation’ (NPPOs) and emphasises commitments made through the Pacific Plant Protection Organisation (PPPO). The Year of Plant Health will see a focus on protecting the Pacific’s unique biodiversity in the face of increasing threats from pests and diseases and meeting the ever-growing challenges caused by climate change.
Through this strategy, the Ministers are aiming to raise awareness and tackle some of the Pacific’s most serious threats to agriculture production, including the Coconut Rhino Beetle, Taro Leaf Blight, Coffee Berry borers, Cassava Brown Streak Disease, Fall Army worm, and Banana TR4.
The meeting noted the potential losses if these and other pests advance in the region, and stressed the importance of Plant Health activities to the region and its contribution to achieving the UN sustainable development goals. This will include increased plant health clinics to increase farmers’ knowledge of pests and diseases, using information technology to share knowledge, for example using the Pacific Pests and Pathogens app. This will increase the skills of Pacific Islanders to watch out for new pests and diseases.
Assistant Director-General and FAO Regional Representative for Asia and the Pacific, Kundhavi Kadiresan, reiterated FAO’s commitments towards strengthening Pacific’s agriculture sector stating “FAO stands ready to engage actively with regional partners to ensure that agriculture priority needs of the sub-region and its countries are met with sufficient resources and political attention to achieve the SDGs.” Kadiresan also pledged FAO’s help toward Pacific Island nations to respond to the challenges of climate change, food insecurity and malnutrition, hand in hand, through enhanced partnerships.
Along with the endorsement of the strategy, the meeting also established a PWA Working Group mandated to articulate future PWA visions, arrangements for events, official level and ministerial segments as well as to provide organisational oversights. The working group consists of SPC, FAO, Vanuatu, Samoa, Australia, Fiji and PNG.
The Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture was also featured, which recognises the importance of the climate-resilient agriculture in addressing climate change, and is a pathway to represent Pacific issues at the international Conference of Parties (COP) meetings convened by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Climate-resilient agriculture includes issues like plant breeding, selecting plants that are drought tolerant and more resistant to pests and diseases. It also recognises the importance of storing carbon in agricultural soils through better use of composting techniques.
The Pacific Food and Nutrition Framework partnership framework was agreed as coordination mechanism to develop nutrition-sensitive food systems in the Pacific Islands.
The 2nd Ministers of Agriculture and Forestry (MoAF) meeting was held as a part of Pacific Week of Agriculture. The Government of Fiji will host next Pacific Week of Agriculture and the next MoAF in 2021.