The Fifth Regional Meeting of Heads of Agriculture and Forestry Services (HOAFS) began this week in Nadi, Fiji with a challenge to address the strategic threat of rising food insecurity faced by the region's agriculture and forestry services.

The meeting theme is: Managing Strategic Risks to Agriculture and Forestry in the Pacific. HOAFS is the regional forum that meets every two years to review and provide guidance to the work programme of the SPC Land Resources Division (LRD).

SPC Director-General, Dr Jimmie Rodgers, in his keynote address said that, in order to face the challenges of the future confidently, the region needs to find answers to strategic threats and develop practical solutions. SPC plays a leading role in helping Pacific agriculture and forestry sectors meet challenges of the twenty-first century. SPC acknowledged the importance of the work of Land Resources Division and is looking towards increasing core funding for the Division over the next two years to help it effectively conduct research and carry out its programme.

In his official opening, Colonel Samuela Saumatua - Fiji's Minister for Local Government, Urban Development, Housing and Environment and Acting Minister for Primary Industries - stressed the importance of SPC in aiding in the development of national and regional policies to support more sustainable forms of land use and efficient agricultural production.

He said the region faces threats from the rising food insecurity associated with a number of factors.

'These include rising imported food prices and shrinking national food production; the threat that rising temperatures and sea levels pose to the region's forest resources and food production systems; and urbanisation, which poses threats to the management of the region's agriculture and forestry resources, and to the health of the populations.'

He said the Pacific region's population is booming, with estimates indicating that it now exceeds ten million and is expected to reach fifteen million by 2035.

The Minister highlighted the fact that the Pacific region will need to increase food production by over 50 per cent in order to meet the demand without significantly increasing the prices.

It is generally recognised, however, that agricultural activity in the Pacific region is falling, and has been for the past three decades.

Inoke Ratukalou, Acting Director of SPC Land Resources Division, said it was vital that disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation measures be jointly directed towards addressing food security issues and challenges to agriculture and forestry in the region.

'Agriculture and forestry development underpin economic growth in Pacific Island countries and territories,' he said.

He emphasised the importance of not only addressing challenges posed by climate change but also by the human impact on agriculture, such as the expansion of cropping into marginal lands, cropping on fragile soil and deforestation.

'Agriculture provides a significant contribution to employment, ranging from anywhere between 40 and 80 per cent of the population of our countries' income and foreign exchange earnings. '

The meeting, which ends on 27 September, is being held at the Tanoa International Hotel and is chaired by Papua New Guinea, assisted by Solomon Islands as Deputy Chair.