FAO calls for renewed digital push in Small Island Developing States battered by COVID-19

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The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), QU Dongyu, Monday called on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to foster the power of innovation and digitalisation to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 1 (no poverty), SDG 2 (no hunger) and SDG 10 (reduced inequalities).

Qu spoke at the opening of the two-day virtual SIDS Solutions Forum (30-31 August), co-hosted by FAO and the Government of Fiji. Heads of State and Government from nine Pacific Island countries attended or were represented at the high-level event, as well as government ministers holding key portfolios related to agriculture, food, nutrition, environment, health, and information and communications technology. African and Caribbean nations were also represented.

FAO is committed to building a world free from hunger and malnutrition, “where no one is left behind regardless of land size, population and geographic location,” Qu said in an address to the opening session. Today’s meeting is an “example of how innovation and digitalisation bring opportunities in the face of challenges.”

“Advances in digital innovation have seen the vast oceans that separate us give way to vast possibilities. Alone, we are small islands. Together, we are one connected continent bound by a spirit of innovative resilience,” said Voreqe Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji. “Our 39 states, from the South Pacific, to the Caribbean, to the Indian Ocean, are home to incredible minds, cutting edge innovation and deep traditional knowledge.”

The President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives, delivered the Forum’s keynote speech, noting it was the first of its kind and was taking place during challenging times.

“The SIDS Solutions Forum is unique. In the midst of a global pandemic, the virtual nature of the conference benefits SIDS across the globe that have been badly affected by geographical isolation, travel restrictions and border lockdowns,” said Shahid. “The innovations, solutions and ideas to be shared at this forum should help SIDS to leapfrog through expanded digitalisation and innovations to accelerate the achievement of the agriculture, food and nutrition related SDGs.”

Dotted across the globe, small in size and population, more than three-dozen Small Island Developing States have been badly affected by COVID-19 on a number of fronts – health-wise, nutritionally and economically. SIDS in the Pacific have been hit especially hard because of their reliance on tourism, with the closure of borders resulting in the loss of crucial revenue.

Even before COVID-19 battered their economies, Pacific SIDS were already dealing with other challenges such as frequent natural disasters, the effects of climate change, limited arable land, dependence on small-scale agriculture, high-priced imports, and a high prevalence of non-communicable diseases, such as heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes. All of these issues have hampered their progress toward achieving the 2030 SDG targets.

The SIDS Solutions Forum has created a space for government leaders, development partners, farmers, fishers, community development practitioners and leaders, entrepreneurs, women and youth to discuss, share, promote and encourage homegrown and imported solutions to respond to the challenges posed by COVID-19 and several of those that pre-existed the pandemic. The ultimate goal is to accelerate the achievement of agriculture, food and nutrition-related SDGs.

The two-day virtual summit, which took place ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September in New York, was organised in partnership with the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). It was also attended by representatives from the private sector, civil society, UN organisations, international and regional development agencies, inter-governmental entities and others, making this a truly global event. The objective of the SIDS Solutions Forum was to examine workable and replicable solutions that will lead to better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for the people of SIDS everywhere.

Digital technologies are transforming agri-food systems. While this is an important development everywhere, it is of great importance to remote areas such as SIDS. The expansion of mobile technologies, remote-sensing services and distributed computing are already improving smallholders’ access to information, inputs and markets, increasing production and productivity, streamlining supply chains, reducing operational costs, and consequently enabling farmers to gain more economically.

Robotics and artificial intelligence are examples of how digital innovation supports farmers in the management of herds and crops. While presently SIDS may find themselves distant from these advanced technologies, they may well be interested in learning about such trends. Digital innovation holds the potential to unlock employment opportunities, bridge the rural divide and empower youth and women to access information, technology and markets. Sharing these rapidly evolving digital innovations will also accelerate progress toward achieving the SDGs in SIDS.

To this effect, the FAO Director-General launched the SIDS Solutions Platform during the opening session of the Forum. The platform will allow SIDS to share the many solutions and innovations that are either homegrown or generated from similar situations elsewhere and that have the potential to be scaled up.

Such a tool should help SIDS “enhance the benefits of digital agriculture and leapfrog by learning from their peers, while addressing potential concerns,” Qu said. “We need science, technology and innovation for the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems,” he said.

SOURCE: FAO/PACNEWS