Sustainable Nutritious Food Systems important for Tonga and all the Pacific Islands

Over eighty agri-entrepreneurs, government and banking officials and key experts from seven Pacific Island countries, gathered at the Tanoa International Dateline Hotel in Nuku’alofa, Kingdom of Tonga on 4 December for the CTA/IFAD/PIPSO integrated Innov4AgPacific project event ‘Transforming Nutrition-Sensitive Value Chain Development in the Pacific Islands” that was organised in collaboration with MORDI Tonga Trust and NISHI Trading Enterprise. Following the presentations and discussions, participants agreed on the need of strengthening partnerships and the importance of developing sustainable nutritious food systems for Tonga and all the Pacific Islands.

The Innov4AgPacific project is a joint initiative of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) working in partnership with the Pacific Islands Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO). It focuses on strengthening the capacity of value chain actors in seven Pacific Islands; Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu to develop strategies and programs that increase access to nutritious and healthy food; especially for the rural poor.

Mr Paula Taumoepeau, President of the Tonga Chamber of Commerce, in his welcome remarks emphasized the need to incentivize the private sector to produce affordable healthy foods as well as create sustainable jobs. He called for national and regional cooperation.

Keynote speakers and guests of honour; Tongan noble and former Minister of Agriculture, Lord Vaea and Hon. Losaline Ma’asi, the Minister of Internal Affairs and Acting Minister of Agriculture highlighted partnerships for building sustainable food systems.

Hon. Ma’asi – also a former Agriculture Minister – in her keynote address expressed hope that the deliberations would create resolutions for addressing the critical issue of ensuring sustainability of the agri-food system in Tonga.

“There is no sustainable system now in Tonga although over 80% of households rely on agriculture. People grow particular cash crops like Kava that attract high prices for a short time but there is need for an action plan for growing local nutritious foods and ensuring their availability and at affordable prices in a more sustainable way.”

“I look forward to your contributions and deliberations which will hopefully lead us to a system where we can strengthen the partnership between the private sector, the farmers, the communities and the Government, and at the same time look at value chain development so everyone can work together in a win-win partnership for the future benefit of our country,” said Ma’asi.

His Excellency, Lord Vaea commended the project partners; CTA, IFAD and PIPSO. In emphasising the importance of the event, Lord Vaea pointed out some of the challenges facing Tonga’s rural communities.

“The consequences of climate change have been devastating. Local foods and fish are expensive to purchase with imported noodles and rice being far cheaper. The hurdle of filling in forms after cyclones and the long delays in getting funding post disaster, require different strategies and more sensitive and speedy responses from officials. Property deeds and other formalities are foreign to the indigenous farmer and fisherman.”

“Tonga is amongst the top 10 countries in the world with the highest rates of Non-communicable diseases (NCDs) including diabetes and in the Pacific, where 4 out of 5 deaths occur due to NCDs, this is a big loss of resources – namely the most precious one – our human resources. Therefore nutrition and health priorities should be mainstreamed into decision making and economic development plans and programmes. ”

“’Transforming Nutrition Sensitive Value Chain Development in the Pacific Islands binds the Government ministries, international partners, community based organisations and financial institutions in securing the general welfare of Tongan families. With better cooperation and education, traditional farming and fishing will be retained and when integrated with modern ICTs and increased access to financing can provide sustainable livelihoods and meet the food and nutrition needs of Pacific people.”

Minoru Nishi, General Manager, Nishi Trading “NCDs are the number one killer in the Pacific. We need to build stronger public-private partnerships for sustainability, economic growth, and nutritious food systems. We are the collective voice – we need to make our voices heard”.

Catalyst speeches in digital financial services, NCD policy, women in ICT followed  and aimed to tackle the most pressing question: “How can we effectively transform nutrition-sensitive local food crops and fisheries value chains for increased incomes and improved health outcomes of Pacific Island Communities?”

“Every person in Tonga has access to a smartphone (95% of the population owns smartphones).” Francis Thomsen, Executive Officer, Digicel Tonga Ltd, Kingdom of Tonga.

Following previous speakers, Praneel Pritesh, Financial Inclusion Specialist of the Pacific Financial Inclusion Programme (PFIP) gave a catalyst speech ‘Banking no Longer requires a Branch or a Boat’. He emphasised that, “Mobile phones present the greatest opportunity for reaching the financially excluded. All of our work makes a difference in the daily lives of Pacific Islanders. In the Solomon Islands, for example, mobile banking has become part of everyday life on the streets and markets.  Eight years ago, many Solomon Islanders would have to wait for weeks on end for a ship ride that could cost a months’worth of income to access one of the few banking branches in urban centers. The next steps will be on focusing on scaling out those successful models to other countries with partners.”

Selu Kauvaka, Senior System Analyst, Ministry of Information & Communications, Kingdom of Tonga, talked about her personal journey of becoming a female engineer in a male dominated sector. But it was her father who was the one encouraging her. “To achieve success in development, men and women need to work hand in hand. We only have 0.5% women in decision making roles and 95% jobs in agriculture are dominated by men.”
Over 80 delegates from private public sector as well as producer and community organisations attended the event.

 

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