Press Release - Boosting agriculture, creating viable local food systems and protecting the vulnerable will have measurable impacts on improving Pacific food security.Port Vila, Vanuatu 22 April 2010- Sustainable local agriculture and protecting the rights of the vulnerable have emerged as strong themes on Day Two of the Pacific Food Summit being held in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
If people don't have access to safe, healthy, nutritious food, health and development outcomes are dramatically negatively impacted. Increasing sustainable agricultural productivity in the face of steadily more difficult environmental conditions is critical. Meeting current food needs without compromising the rights of future generations involves multisectoral policies and actions that target the most vulnerable.
"Changing circumstances, including urbanisation, increased farm commercialisation, a dominating reliance on food imports, globalisation and climate change are threatening the capacity of local agriculture and fishery systems to produce a sustainable supply of nutritious food for local populations," comments Dr Vili Fuavao, Sub Regional Representative for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
Population growth of above 2% in some Pacific island countries, places pressure on agricultural land, increasing demands on limited water resources from urban sectors, intensified cropping, and degradation and over fishing make the sustainable management of the natural resource base critical to food security and agricultural productivity.
"We need dramatic change. Long-term food security requires establishing food supply systems that can mitigate risk and cope with stress. There is a need to create more resilient food systems, capable of adapting to shifts at local and regional levels and absorb disturbances resulting from the volatility of the global economic market and environmental changes," continues Dr Fuavao.
Looking to the future, the integration of agricultural, food processing, value addition and non-agricultural business activities is essential in order to enhance food security. Conserving fish stocks and investing in sustainable management of our oceans is critical.
"And the longer we leave taking strong action to create sustainable food supplies and supportive agricultural, the harder and more complex it becomes to fix it. Ultimately, that makes it harder to feed our people. None of us wants that," states Dr Fuavao.
"Just as our land is exposed to increasing vulnerabilities, so to are our human communities," adds Dr Isiye Ndombi, Pacific Representative for the United Nations' Children's Fund (UNICEF).
"Due to physiological needs, pregnant women, infants, children and adolescent girls are more vulnerable to food security and resulting issues such as anaemia. Micronutrient deficiencies, arising from poor quality of food, diets low in vegetables and fruits, lack of iodized salt and parasitic infections are a public health problem in a majority of Pacific countries.
In 14 Pacific countries, anaemia is found in 19%-60% of preschool children, 12%-54% of non-pregnant women and 19%-57% of pregnant women. Vitamin A deficiency is present in 9%-22% of preschool children.
"All these are issues that are completely preventable," continues Dr Ndombi. "The good news is that if we prevent malnutrition during pregnancy and the first two years of life, we can make significant gains and directly reduce illness and death. For young children - the breast is best - all children need to be fed breastmilk exclusively for the first 6 months, and then other nutritious foods should be gradually introduced.
For pregnant women, children and adolescent girls, micronutrient supplementation either through fortified foods or supplementation is the best option where there are difficulties in consuming enough nutrient-rich food.
"We'd also like to work much more closely with our food industry partners to fortify foods, with micronutrients like folic acid, iodine and Vitamin A. This an area that we can really make some radical gains in. It's good news for health and it's good news for industry as they look for different market opportunities," urges Dr Ndombi.
"Developing regulation for fortification of flour, rice and oil and iodization of salt, while regulating against the importation of high fat meats and foods will go a long way to alleviate the twin problems of micronutrient deficiency and chronic, non communicable disease that exist in the Pacific Region," confirmed Dr Glen Maberly, Director, Global Health Institute (GHI), a part of the Centre for Health Innovation and Partnership Sydney West Area Health Service (SWAHS) NSW, Australia
The impact of food insecurity is most severe for the poorest members of the community and particularly those in urban areas without access to subsistence agriculture or fisheries. People affected by the frequent natural disasters that haunt the Pacific are also vulnerable.
"In our quest for food security for all, we can't afford to leave anyone out. This is why agreed regional action is so important. We urge governments to move quickly to protect our land and our populations," agreed Drs Fuavao and Ndombi.