Apia -- A renewed political commitment to tackle the many unique, sustainable development challenges facing the world's small island states, is expected to be the most important outcome of a United Nations conference that opened in Samoa today.
The Third International Conference on Small Developing States (SIDS) from 1-4 September in Apia, Samoa also seeks to build partnerships aimed at addressing issues such as food security, the safeguarding and harnessing of aquatic resources, climate change and environmental degradation.
SIDS are a group of countries, mostly from the Pacific, Caribbean, Atlantic and Indian Ocean regions which share similar development challenges.
These include small populations, limited resources and susceptibility to natural disasters, vulnerability to external shocks and an excessive dependence on international trade.
The growth and development of SIDS is often further hampered by high transportation and communications costs, disproportionately expensive public administration and infrastructure, and limited opportunities to create economies of scale.
FAO, which is represented at the Apia conference by Director-General, José Graziano da Silva, is working closely with SIDS to enhance these countries' sustainable development efforts.
FAO has invested over 40 million US dollars in the past two years to support SIDS address issues related to food and nutrition security, agriculture, fisheries, forestry and natural resources management.
Tapping the potential of the 'blue world'
FAO's flagship Global Blue Growth Initiative has a special resonance for SIDS since it seeks to boost the contribution made by fisheries and aquaculture to the food security and livelihoods of millions of people along the world's seashores and waterways.
The initiative focuses on balancing priorities between growth and conservation, between industrial and small-scale or family fishing. It also seeks to ensure that communities enjoy a fair share of the benefits derived from trade and employment opportunities created by the 'blue economy'.
Capture fisheries are the wealth of most small island developing states and play a major role in many national economies, especially those in the Pacific where capture fisheries can contribute as much as 10 percent of GDP.
For example, FAO is working in partnership with local and regional stakeholders to unlock the potential of 2.4 million tonnes of tuna caught in the Western Pacific Ocean for revenue generation.
Aquaculture which on a global scale is becoming increasingly important as a means of food production also has the potential to make a major contribution to SIDS.
For example, it is estimated that in the Caribbean, aquaculture development can increase total fish production by some 30 per cent within 10 years. To achieve such targets, SIDS will have to invest in appropriate policy and legal frameworks, research, capacity building and information.
Blue Growth also has a key component that seeks to ensure sustainable livelihoods and food systems. For small-scale fisheries, FAO supports policies that empower fishing communities, promote sustainable resource use and ensure social rights, access to welfare and social protection programmes, and also improve working conditions and gender equality.
Countries need to sustainably use and manage aquatic resources for the benefit of present and future generations by protecting, restoring and improving the health, productivity of oceans, coastal and inland ecosystems and to maintain their aquatic biodiversity.
To achieve this, through the Blue Growth Initiative, FAO aims to assist SIDS develop national policies and measures including pollution taxes, and contribute expertise in building resilience. Areas include exploring the potential of mangroves as a defence against coastal erosion and storm and wave damage, fish-crop - for example rice - and sea-weed cultivation.
The SIDS also rely on the potential of diverse but often interlinked and interdependent, land-based activities, such as crop and livestock production.
FAO for example, is working in partnership with local and regional stakeholders in the Cook Islands to shift fruit and horticultural production towards catering for the needs of the domestic market, including tourism.
In the Caribbean, in the wake of harsh rains and winds from the recent low-level trough, FAO responded to requests from St. Vincent and the Grenadines and St. Lucia with rehabilitation assistance to the farming sector and resilience building in vulnerable forested and riverain areas.