Climate change policy vital but prioritise seasonal work

By The Editorial Board 13 September 2023, 10:00AM

It is great that work has started on the formulation of the first-ever climate change policy for Samoa’s agriculture and fisheries sector. Just last week the country played host to the 31st SPREP Meeting Environment Ministers – where the region’s leading scientists and Environment Ministers expressed concern at the impact of the triple planetary crisis – while emphasising the need to keep global temperature below 1.5 degrees. 

The threats are real and Governments in the region including Samoa cannot afford to rest on their laurels, with many of our island and coastal communities already impacted and forced to adjust to the rising frequency of extreme weather conditions. Therefore, the timing of the conference for stakeholders in Samoa’s agriculture and fisheries sector was perfect. 

Addressing the validation forum at the Taumeasina Island Resort on Monday, the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, La’auli Leuatea Schmidt spoke on the impact of climate change and how it threatens the food supply as well as the economic well-being of many communities.

“The adverse effects on the three main subsectors crops, livestock and fisheries have significant and varied impacts,” said La’auli at the gathering. “These impacts have wide-ranging consequences which threaten the livelihood of those dependent on these sub-sectors.

“As we gather here today, we recognise the urgency of addressing this issue head-on, and the significance of our collective efforts in response to climate change cannot be overstated.”

With feedback from the agriculture and fisheries stakeholders collated during Monday’s conference, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (MAF) should now begin the work on collating all the data and analysing them with a view to designing the policy. A determination will also need to be made by the Ministry on whether it should be a short-term or long-term policy, taking into consideration the frequency and dire effects of climate change on those who are directly or indirectly part of the sector.

However, amid these developments in the agriculture and fisheries sectors, we believe there is a bigger issue happening behind the scenes, which if not addressed immediately by the authorities could lead to a food security crisis.

Over a fortnight ago this newspaper published data released by the Samoa Bureau of Statistics (SBS) based on a survey of produce sold at the local markets in recent months. According to the data, there has been a fluctuation in the supply of produce, which has led to a rise in food prices. The average volume of agricultural produce supplied to the local markets in the 12 months to June 2023 was 0.7 per cent lower over the same period last year. This was mainly due to a reduction in average supplies of stable food crops such as ta'amu, banana and pumpkin. 

The Agriculture and Fisheries Minister, when asked to comment on the drop in the supply of the crops as the SBS survey findings showed, said the data was not complete and he believes there were a number of factors that were not incorporated.

La’auli also revealed a troubling development in Samoa’s rural community, which we believe should be put under the spotlight and discussed, with a view to finding a solution to avoid a food security crisis as we mentioned earlier.

He said one of the challenges that are now a contributing factor to the drop in crops being sold in the local markets is the shortage of manpower. La’auli said many men, who would normally be working the land with responsibility within their families for harvesting the produce, are signing up for the seasonal labour schemes and moving to either Australia or New Zealand.

This is a troubling development, which if not addressed by the current administration, could have long-term ramifications. The sustainability of agricultural food production at the village level led by the men as heads of their families is important for family stability – the loss of food production due to a family or a village’s most able-bodied men signing up for seasonal work overseas – has health and social implications and the lack of food security would right at the top. 

A family lifestyle that is solely dependent on income from remittances sent by family members in seasonal work abroad is short-term and at the end of the day depends on the labour needs of the Australian and New Zealand markets. Changes in the labour policies of these two foreign markets will not consider the daily needs of Samoan families back home, who’ve now become dependent on remittances.

This is one of the many reasons why the current Government should make public its proposed seasonal worker policy, so the people can ascertain whether it addresses some of these problem areas. While a climate change policy is vital, the proposed seasonal worker policy is equally important to address some of these troubling developments in our rural communities.

By The Editorial Board 13 September 2023, 10:00AM
Samoa Observer

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