Experts from more than 50 small island countries are meeting this week in Mauritius to discuss climate change and food security. The so-called Small Island Developing States are home to more than 50 million people.
The small island nations include Haiti, Fiji, Jamaica and Mauritius, which is hosting the meeting. called Small Island Economies: From Vulnerabilities to Opportunities
Among those taking part is Michael Hailu, director of the Technical Center for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation.
Small islands, big problems
He says, “Small island developing countries have a lot of vulnerabilities because of their small size. They depend very much on single commodities or tourism for their incomes. They’re also vulnerable to climate change and other natural disasters. So they have a very specific set of problems.”
Hailu said the small island nations and territories are already seeing the effects of climate change.
“There are extreme weather conditions affecting many of the islands, more frequent hurricanes and drought and all that. So they are very much susceptible and they’ve had a lot of natural disasters from Haiti to many of the islands that have been facing these problems,” he said.
They’re also concerned about volatile food prices that have been common since the 2007/2008 global food crisis.
“The impact of the food crisis has been quite large in small countries because they import a lot of their foods from outside to mostly cater for the large number of tourists that is coming in. And when prices go up globally they are very much affected in terms of their import bills. But now they are putting a lot more attention into developing their local agriculture,” he said.
Hailu said this not only reduces imported food bills, but provides consumers with what he calls a local healthier alternative.
Becoming more resilient
Conference participants are looking at both challenges and opportunities.
“The meeting is basically to look at how they can improve their resilience to these kinds of problems; and how they can be in a better position to react to these crises that they face from time to time,” he said.
The Island nations are expected to voice their concerns and ideas at June’s RIO+20 conference on sustainable development. The United Nations classifies 52 countries and territories as Small Island Developing States. Most are in the Caribbean and Pacific regions.