I wish to begin by underscoring the importance of this day as an integral part of the work of this Commission. The international community designated the Commission on Sustainable Development as the body to monitor implementation of the Mauritius Strategy. SIDS Day therefore offers the key opportunity to review and assess progress in advancing, comprehensively, this platform for the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States.
As our focus for this review, we have the thematic cluster of issues before this 16th session of CSD – agriculture, rural development, land, drought, desertification and Africa. This means we can ensure that the SIDS benefit from the engagement of the full range of representation in the international community with expertise in these issues.
At the same time, considering the thematic cluster within the context of the vulnerabilities of SIDS, sharpens our sense of how timely and urgent these issues are.
For SIDS, their vulnerability remains their fundamental concern. One major dimension of this is the vulnerability of SIDS to external economic influences, given the challenges of small size in land, population and resource base; of chronic lack of human and institutional capacity; and of structural rigidities. All these have contributed to the weakening of their international competitiveness and the marginalization of their economies in international trade.
Of equal concern is the vulnerability of SIDS to environmental factors, given their ecological fragility and significant exposure to the damaging effects of climate change.
Let us consider, for a moment, the impact of climate change and sea-level rise on land management and agriculture in SIDS.
The warming of coastal waters has increased the death of coral reefs from bleaching. This, in turn, has caused loss of fish nurseries and increased the erosion of coastal areas, where the majority of SIDS populations live.
Arable land and freshwater resources are already under pressure from the needs of growing populations. Rising sea levels would bring increased salinization of soil and water and, in some cases, the threat of complete inundation.
The increased frequency and intensity of cyclones, hurricanes and other extreme natural events have, in recent years, caused significant destruction of agricultural crops in SIDS, as well as damage to housing stock and physical infrastructure. Incidents of drought have shortened growing seasons, reduced agricultural yields and, in some SIDS, exacerbated desertification.
These actual and potential impacts are all the more concerning given that trade in agricultural products is still the mainstay of most SIDS economies. The situation is made worse by the declining terms of trade in this area: the loss of preferential trading arrangements, as a result of globalization and trade liberalization; and the diminished competitiveness of SIDS exports.
These factors have undermined the viability of the traditional agricultural industries in SIDS, deepened poverty and unemployment in their rural communities, and forced the diversification of agro-industry, often into non-food agriculture, such as the production of bio-fuels.
The combined impact of these environmental and economic influences has lowered the agricultural productivity of SIDS, increased instability in agricultural exports, and heightened dependence on food imports – all of which amounts to a worsening of food security in these Member States.
Building resilience in SIDS, through adaptation measures and capacity building, will require multidisciplinary and multi-stakeholder effort; the participation of the SIDS themselves; and the support of the wider international community – from the regional commissions and the agencies of the UN system to the donor countries and global civil society.
It is my hope that, through today’s general debate and panel discussions, we will arrive at a common assessment of the critical challenges and opportunities – in these areas of agriculture, land management, rural development, drought and desertification – that must be addressed to support SIDS in advancing their sustainable development efforts.
There is no better place for us to do this – exchanging experiences and lessons learned, with a view to finding solutions – than right here, in the Commission on Sustainable Development.