By: Paloma Durán, Director, Sustainable Development Goals Fund
19 April 2016
The UN General Assembly’s recent announcement of a new framework to establish the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) Partnership signals the beginning of a very timely collaboration. As part of this new agreement, the plan outlines the need to monitor and ensure the full implementation of pledges and commitments announced during the 2014 SIDS conference and to “encourage new, genuine and durable partnerships for sustainable development.” Known as the SAMOA Pathway, this novel and forward looking action plan calls for greater attention to the partnerships and cross-cutting issues required for building resilience. The text set out clear modalities of action on a range of issues also linked to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The much needed attention and recent focus on SIDS is important in many respects, not just because of these States’ ongoing development challenges, but because these of the challenges these countries face reflect the new development agenda and represent a microcosm of how the challenges can be addressed elsewhere. There is a clear need to continue to build resilience, capacity and provide technical assistance through multilateral and South-South cooperation mechanisms, especially in areas such as job creation and youth employment. With young people in these regions facing persistent underemployment and limited vocational training, providing viable work and opportunities to be productive remains a real policy challenge. Finding attractive ways for youth to contribute positively and as part of the value chain is key. We know what needs to be done, and with that the real work must now begin.
The challenges of SIDS are multi-faceted, given the confluence of climate change and their unique position in the world. Considered to be the “frontline of climate change,” these areas represent more than 50 million people whose livelihoods are often threatened by rising sea levels, weather variations and natural disasters. In addition, coastal erosion, drought and resource shortages often threaten food security, water, energy, health and other key efforts linked to poverty. Consider the recent cyclone Winston, which delivered a strong reminder of the requirements for responses to humanitarian disasters and recovery and broader resilience strengthening.
While the SAMOA Pathway has reaffirmed the need to focus on education and training for key populations such as youth, the enabling environment in many of these regions is often hampered by both market proximity and poor infrastructure. Overall the “islands” are comprised of 37 member States, 52 countries and territories. The small islands’ vulnerability to climate change is magnified by their long-standing dependence on fishing, food imports and a limited land base. Since most SIDS are relatively isolated with small and growing populations, job creation is further constrained in these countries. According to an ILO and UNEP report, virtually all Pacific Island countries lack an adequate skilled and trained workforce. In addition to the strong gaps in basic job skills, the limited opportunities for education and management practice often take a toll on young people who face challenging surroundings in regions that often struggle to attract investment and global institutions.
Adding to the unique and so-called “special situation” of many of these small islands is the fact that many of these countries are also tackling the issue of food security, especially as reliance on imports increases and agricultural yields decrease. Whether due to external or weather related shocks, SIDS’ resilience needs to be strengthened. Given their vulnerabilities, there is an ongoing need to build capacity and promote alternative and more inclusive growth strategies, especially in response to eroding industries like farming and fishing. This, however, cannot be done without young people in the mix. For governments, this may require helping young people to find viable economic opportunities, and perhaps redefining the often negative perceptions of sectors like farming, by bringing technology and education into the fold.
Pilot programs incorporate youth and value chain in SIDS
In pursuit of these objectives, the SDG Fund (SDG-F) has announced new pilot programs in Fiji, Vanuatu and Samoa to respond to the complex development challenges of SIDS in the Pacific. As part of its ongoing mission, the SDG Fund, a multi-donor and inter-agency mechanism, is already working in 21 countries to pilot integrated development programs in key areas, including food security and nutrition, inclusive economic growth and water and sanitation.
The Fund supports interagency cooperation, in this case UN agencies working closely with governments, private sector and civil service organizations to provide more integrated responses on development issues, such as those that support income generation or provide better access to food. In Fiji and Vanuatu, where high rates of youth unemployment and diminishing food production challenge an already vulnerable economy, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD) are working to engage youth in an organic farming program. The pilot project provides a unique, farm to table, value chain approach designed to generate employment with national and private sector partners in key industries of agriculture and tourism, which are central to the local economy and contribute to more than 65% of GDP.
As such, the SDG-F initiative aims to create diversified climate change livelihood options by training young people with new agricultural techniques and as certified producers of fruits and vegetables. In addition to assisting young people with the skills they need to start and operate their micro-enterprises, the joint program will facilitate linkages with the private sector in an effort to match the demand of restaurants, resorts and other key markets. The initiative is also collaborating with the Ministry of Youth in Fiji to provide training to young people in areas of basic farm management and organic farm certification. In Samoa, where more than 64% of the population is under 30 years old, SDG-Fund’s pilot program will help leverage employment opportunities for youth through the use of innovative technology and real time data. The project uses special GIS technology and handheld tablets to track quality information and identify crops needed for local markets. Ideally, such tools will help improve the income generating potential for smallholder farmers and provide greater yields and incomes. The model combines agricultural skills training with better market data to help young farmers learn new techniques and enhance production in the hope of removing the “stigma” of the industry.
All in all, it’s an opportune time to consider the work that has been laid out by the SAMOA Pathway and the challenges and opportunities in SIDS. However, to truly transform these regions into an instrument of change, continued collaboration and fresh thinking to support not only young people, but all people in these influential regions, will be required.