Food systems must target better health and greater resilience: Samarasinha

Food systems in Fiji and across the Pacific must make the connection between food and health, enhance resilience and sustainable agricultural production, involve blue foods at its core, and develop strong partnerships and trust between stakeholders, UN Resident Coordinator Sanaka Samarasinha told today’s Fiji Food Systems Summit National Dialogue.

Speaking at the opening of the three-day event bringing together Fiji food system stakeholders Samarasinha said the national dialogues were a critical element of the preparatory process towards the Global Food Systems Summit that will be convened by the UN Secretary-General in September.

“These national dialogues which the UN is supporting in practically every country in the Pacific, will not only ensure that the region’s unique perspectives are considered during the summit, but they also serve as an opportunity for countries to recalibrate their own approaches to food systems and find local solutions for local problems,” Samarasinha said.

Noting that Pacific NCD rates were among the highest in the world and responsible for up to 84 per cent of deaths in Fiji, Samarasinha called for an urgent examination on the Pacific’s reliance on imported foods.

“High import-dependency has complex health and economic implications for Pacific Islanders resulting in overconsumption of imported processed foods. This has a direct effect on the prevalence of obesity in this region, where currently over 50% of Pacific Islanders are overweight or obese,” Samarasinha said.

He called for improved policies and regulatory standards for healthy and safe food, stronger dietary guidelines, and greater innovation in the food safety system that recognizes the importance of local production of nutrient-rich foods to address NCDs.

Pointing to the food insecurity and agricultural damages and loss caused by the three cyclones that hit Fiji since May 2020, the UN Resident Coordinator said concerted action must be taken to enhance the resilience and sustainability of agricultural and food production systems.

“Pacific food systems should be based on resilient traditional foods, multiplication of resilient crop varieties and should include adoption of improved sustainable farming practices that have been successful in similar climates around the world,” Samarasinha said.

These included placing blue foods at the heart of Pacific food systems.

“Too often, the benefits of blue food from the region are reaped not by Pacific Islanders but by those who harvest the resources of the Blue Pacific from countries around the world. At the same time, this contribution by the Pacific to the global food system is highly under-recognised. Transforming our food system in the region will require a new mindset and a more careful consideration of blue foods.”

Samarasinha concluded by emphasizing the importance of stronger partnerships and trust between food system stakeholders highlighting that this was one of the most challenging aspects of building a viable and just food system around the world.

“I would like to commend the commitment demonstrated in previous dialogues to developing protection mechanisms targeting hard to reach poor rural people, with a strong focus on women and youth. I urge everyone to also extend these protections to persons with disabilities, the elderly and other vulnerable groups,” Samarasinha said.

“Beyond protections – it is imperative that all food systems discussions, solutions and pathways are inclusive. What we eat and drink is a deeply personal and intimate exercise, so everyone’s voice matters. It is only through such a diverse stakeholder owned process that we can finally arrive at an equitable, nutritious and sustainable food system for all.”

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