FAO and WFP in the Pacific identify significant challenges to ensuring agrifood systems transformations due to rising prices.
12 December 2022, Apia – While the onset of COVID-19 caused the worldwide economy to come to a sudden halt, the impact on the Pacific was unique. To deter community transmission of COVID-19, many Pacific Island governments closed their borders to international travel, consequently interrupting the income stream that made up most of their economies. For some countries, their borders remained closed for more than two years. Now, despite borders reopening, the increase of food, feed, fuel, and fertilizer prices, since February 2022, is straining already tenuous economies.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) in the Pacific have analysed the impact of increasing prices of food, feed, fertilizer and fuel and issues accessing financing (5Fs) on 10 Pacific Island countries’ national food systems, with support from the UN Sustainable Development Goals Development Emergency Modality funding. Through data collection, training government officials to develop an early warning system, and connecting government institutions with international financing mechanisms, FAO and WFP are supporting 10 Pacific Island countries to alleviate the negative impact of the 5F on their respective populations’ food security and livelihoods.
“Rising prices are worrisome, impacting not only the poorest, but also supply chains and overall cost of living of the population critically undermining Pacific countries’ agrifood systems transformation and the 2030 Development agendas,” notes Ms Xiangjun Yao, FAO Subregional Coordinator for the Pacific. “This is why over the upcoming months, FAO will continue to prioritize helping Pacific governments to adapt and implement their national agrifood systems transformation pathways.”
All sectors (private and public, production and services) are affected, with, in some cases, reduced provision of extension and advisory services, decreased delivery of government services, and shifts in population consumption patterns, ultimately affecting economic growth. Globally, the FAO Food Price Index saw 34 percent higher prices in foods than in March 2021. In the Pacific Island countries, the Consumers Price Index rose on average by 8 percent in the past six months (January – June 2022) alone, more than the already high 7 percent average the world has seen over the past three years (2019-2022). Fuel and fertilizer are also at unparalleled levels, threatening food security and livelihoods around the world.
“Conflict, COVID-19, the climate crisis and rising costs have combined in 2022 to create jeopardy for up to 828 million hungry people across the world. In the Pacific, those bearing the brunt of rising fuel and food prices, are often the most vulnerable people, “noted Mr Alpha Bah, Country Director of WFP’s Pacific Multi-Country Office. “While the Pacific is not directly exposed to the Ukraine war- the rising prices, constant climate shocks and impacts of the pandemic is a perfect storm pushing people to borrow money, spend savings, reduce their health and stray further away from access to nutritious food.”
“We used to save some of our catch for ourselves to ensure that our family had a healthy source of protein, but with the cost of fuel now, we have to sell all of our fish just to barely make ends meet,” noted one local fisherman in Samoa.
According to data on nutritious food baskets, in Samoa, it is 50 percent more expensive to procure healthy meals for one’s family than it was a year ago. FAO and WFP have discovered changes in consumers’ behaviour, noting increased prices on healthy foods, which have the potential to encourage producers to boost the production of local produce and crops, but also have the potential to force people to resort to cheaper, less healthy options or to implement practices potentially detrimental to natural resources (e.g. increase of near-shore fishing, increased use of wood for energy).
“Our island is rich in natural resources, so we must produce and eat locally, and local market access needs to be supported whilst limiting international food import,” stated a farmer in Palau.
Across the Pacific, FAO and WFP are seeing changes in production practices to adapt to the current crisis. In focus group discussions, some Pacific Islanders highlighted the reduction of cropped areas, even up to 25 percent less cropped area in some parts of Palau, due to higher fertilizer prices. In other countries, livestock breeders noted destocking of larger breeds as the costs of feed continue to rise, whereas fishers reduce their activities (less often and less far).
In October 2022, to highlight the issues the Pacific governments and people are facing, FAO supported a delegation of Pacific Island country government officials to travel to the Asia-Pacific Symposium on Agrifood Systems Transformation in Bangkok, Thailand to speak on the effects they were witnessing in their countries.
Among the delegates who discussed these impacts were the Hon. Laauli Leuatea Polataivao Fosi, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Samoa; H. E. Elina P. Akinaga, Secretary, FSM Department of Resources & Development, and the Assistant Secretary for R&D, Federated States of Micronesia; Michael Tapaholoiesi Hoóta, Deputy Secretary Technical, Ministry of Agriculture & Livestock, Solomon Islands; Marissa Derime Cook, Director of Agriculture, National Convenor, Nauru; Antoine Ravo, Director of the Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vanuatu; Anuradha Gupta, Land Use Planning Coordinator, Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, and the Environment, Palau. The Hon. Lord Fohe Minister for Agriculture, Food and Forests (MAFF), the Kingdom of Tonga provided his statement virtually.
“The triple shocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 5F crisis and ongoing impact of climate change is exasperating already vulnerable Pacific economies and agrifood systems and called for tangible collective action for the survival of Pacific communities”, noted Samoa’s Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The Federated States of Micronesia’s Secretary for the Department of Resources and Development stated that “ensuring improved productivity and reduced losses and waste, engaging women and youth and creating enabling environments are key actions to address the current challenges and help to transform agrifood systems in the Pacific.”
The Pacific delegation highlighted the need to support locally grown solutions of innovation that can accelerate agrifood systems transformation as well as the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and the SAMOA Pathway while mitigating the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in prices. The discussion continued at the Pacific Small Islands Developing States (SIDS) Solutions Forum co-hosted by FAO and Samoa in Apia on 28-30 November.