By Andrew Hobbs

PAPUA New Guinea deputy prime minister Leo Dion has told his Pacific colleagues that new approaches to agriculture are needed when he hosted the 11th meeting of Southwest Pacific Ministers of Agriculture in May.

Held with the theme ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’, and run in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), the meeting focused on food security issues in the region, with climate change posing a threat to the status quo.

In his opening address, Mr Dion said the Pacific region was highly vulnerable to adverse climatic conditions such as cyclones, El Niño, sea level rise and storm surges.

“Clearly new approaches will be needed for a climate-constrained agriculture and high priority in this regard is disaster preparedness and response,” he said.

Mr Dion said persistent hunger and malnutrition was the norm for many people in the region.

“Global concerns on food security impose obligations on national governments to establish non-discriminatory and non-political laws to ensure that their population has access to adequate food,” he added.

At the same time, FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva said obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) had become important public health issues worldwide, but especially for the Pacific Island Countries.

Dr da Silva said the FAO would be addressing the problem of nutrition and NCDs in the Pacific through a series of measures, including the Pacific Regional Initiative on value chains for food security and nutrition in the Pacific Islands.

But at the same time, shifts in rainfall patterns, rising sea levels and sea surface temperatures caused by climate change have had disastrous effects on rural production, food security and livelihoods, especially among developing countries.

“Yet 2015 may mark a historic turning point in the way the world addresses global warming,” he said.“We have the climate negotiations in Paris in December which take place in the same year that also witnessed the catastrophic damage caused by Cyclone Pam to many countries of this region.”

“That disaster is a clear warning of what climate change can do today but also in the future with even more devastating consequences,” he said.

During the same month of the Pam tragedy, FAO approved the launch of a Climate Change Trust Fund for small island developing states, which is being already set up using extra budgetary resources.

“The hazardous, longstanding impacts of climate change on food security, as can be seen in Vanuatu, only reinforce the urgent need for debates on the climate agreements that are expected to emerge from the Paris conference at the end of this year,” he said.

Dr da Silva said these harmful impacts of climate change also stress the need to place agriculture high on the agreements.

“We need to create more resilient food production systems that are better adapted to the changing climatic conditions,” he said.

“Better watershed management, improved soil quality and gender empowerment are only some examples.”“The right policies to ensure food security and build resilience and productivity typically come with substantial benefits, particularly for the rural poor.”

Speaking after the event, PNG Minister for Agriculture and Livestock Tommy Tomscoll paid tribute to the FAO, thanking Dr da Silva for his efforts in giving special consideration to the needs of the Pacific countries.

He said Pacific island countries shared similar problems in terms of poverty and must work together with FAO and other partners to improve the standard of living.

By coming together at such high profile meeting, the ministers would work closely together and their efforts will create hope and opportunities to enhance agriculture in the region, Mr Tomscoll said.

He said the agriculture sector was the backbone of many of the Pacific island economies and played an important role in terms of providing income, employment, business opportunities and others.

He said FAO has provided PNG with technical assistance through a number of programs, including the formulation of a new food security policy for the period from 2016-2025, adding the establishment of the FAO country office has made work much easier.

Mr Tomscoll said PNG was now making an effort in transforming and modernising the sector to bring positive changes to the people.