Disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation merge to protect Pacific agriculture and forestry sectors

The Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Geoscience and Technology Division( SOPAC) in conjunction with its Land Resources Division (LRD), the German Agency for International Cooperation (GIZ) and other partners have been assisting Pacific Island countries and territories in the development of disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation responses.

This will enable Pacific communities to prepare for the effects of climate change, according to Acting Director of LRD Mr Inoke Ratukalou. He was speaking at the Pacific Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Conference, which was held in Auckland in August this year.

'Disaster risk reduction (DRR) addresses risks related to all categories of hazard, while climate change adaptation (CCA) focuses only on climate risks, but both DRR and CCA policies and strategies recognise the vulnerability of the agriculture and forestry sectors in the Pacific. Scientists have shown that climate change impacts will exacerbate disaster risks, so currently the two areas of focus are being dealt with in parallel,' Mr Ratukalou said.

'There is increasing recognition that these two areas share common ground; both are concerned with reducing vulnerability of communities and contributing to sustainable development.

'Therefore, the need to integrate the two concepts and to work out concrete actions to reduce risks and vulnerability and to increase the resilience of agriculture and forestry ecosystems is vital for the sustainable livelihoods of Pacific people.
'Agriculture and forestry development underpins economic growth in the Pacific region, as well as the livelihoods and cultural identity of its people,' he said.

Both sectors provide a significant contribution to employment, income and foreign exchange earnings. Almost 80% of the population in Melanesia is involved in agriculture and forestry on a commercial or subsistence basis, and up to 35% of the gross domestic product in resource-rich countries such as Papua New Guinea is derived from the agriculture and forestry sectors.

Ratukalou said that traditional agriculture and forestry have undergone immense changes, due mainly to population pressures, urbanisation, and social and economic changes.

'The expansion of commercial cropping into marginal lands, cropping on fragile soils without conservation measures in place, deforestation and burning of grassland are also causing natural resources degradation, lower crop and pasture yields, and increasing food insecurity and rural poverty.'

Such a situation, added Ratukalou, creates very vulnerable communities and the onsite and offsite effects on agriculture and forestry resources - soil erosion, coastal erosion, inundation and salt intrusion of coastal areas, loss of forest, threats to biodiversity, increase in invasive species, pest and disease infestation - will be exacerbated by the onslaught of extreme climatic conditions such as cyclones, storm surges, drought, high rainfall and sea level rise.

LRD is committed to providing much-needed assistance to SPC member countries so that risks from these calamities are minimised.