The Chinese biologist Qu Dongyu, who has been serving as Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), has called on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to rely on innovation and digitalization to speed up the achievement of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The UN official, who delivered aq speech at the opening of the two-day virtual SIDS Solutions Forum (30-31 August), co-hosted by FAO and the Government of Fiji, was focused particularly on SDG 1 (No poverty), SDG 2 (No hunger) and SDG 10 (Reduced inequalities).
Heads of State and Government from nine Pacific Island as well as African and Caribbean nations were represented at the event.
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.
The meeting was an “example of how innovation and digitalisation bring opportunities in the face of challenges,” he added.
“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 Fiji Prime Minister Josaia V. Bainimarama.
“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,” he went on.
The President of the UN General Assembly, Abdulla Shahid, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Maldives, said “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 has been badly affected by geographical isolation, travel restrictions and border lockdowns.”
“The innovations, solutions and ideas to be shared at this forum should help SIDS to leapfrog through expanded digitalization and innovations to accelerate the achievement of the agriculture, food and nutrition-related SDGs,” he specified.
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 several fronts – health-wise, nutritionally and economically. SIDS in the Pacific has been hit especially hard because they relied 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 took place ahead of the United Nations General Assembly in September in New York.
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.”