IFAD Asset Request Portlet

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Hon. Martin Puta Tofinga Minister of Environment Lands and Agricultural Development speech to the 29th Session of IFAD's Governing Council

Mr Chairman,
President of IFAD
Distinguished Delegates,

Mr Chairman,
President of IFAD
Distinguished Delegates,

This is the first time for my delegation to take part in this important meeting after we became a member late last year. The Government and people of Kiribati therefore would like to thank the Governing Council of IFAD for accepting Kiribati to become a member.

Secondly, my delegation would like to thank the authorities in IFAD and the Government of Italy for the very warm welcome during our arrival here in Rome.

The Republic of Kiribati comprises of 33 atolls, which are divided into 3 main groups namely the Gilbert group, the Line Group, and the Phoenix Group. The islands are scattered over more than 3.5 million square kilometers of ocean with the total land area of only 810 sq km.

Prospect for development in the agricultural sector is constrained by the inherently poor soil, poor rainfall and lack of surface water sources, land tenure and the geographical scattered nature of the islands. Agriculture production is dominated by coconut palms (Cocos nucifera), which provides the main components of the daily diets as well as the only main export crop. Apart from the coconut, the other main food crops are pandanus (Pandanus tectorius), te babai (Cyrtosperma chamissonis) which grown in pits dug to the underground water table. Breadfruit trees (Artocarpus altilis) are often grown around homes, whilst bananas, pawpaws and pumpkin and sweet potatoes are occasionally grown. In the drier islands the breadfruit trees do not grow well whilst bananas and pawpaws are almost non- existent.

Due to poor soil conditions, agricultural production is very low and consequently, most of the food products are imported from overseas, Kiribati membership in IFAD is as an important step forward to enhance agricultural food production in the country and to focus mainly on the indigenous food crops that would in the longer term lessened reliance in imported food products.
 
Having said that, my delegation would like put forward at this meeting two main proposals which are a result of our close consultations with farmers and fisher folks in the outer islands together with consultations with relevant NGOs.  This is to say that these proposals are not solely conceptualised at the Ministry level as they have basis in the grass-root level.

The first one is on the technical and Financial Assistance to the Kiribati Organic Farmers Association [KOFA].

In May 2005, we indicated to IFAD our agreement as regards to the Regional Strategy in the Pacific (through filling in the questionnaire) to the idea of promoting organic farming and to facilitate its certification, as we slowly but steady moving towards that stage.

Although Kiribati has no products yet ready to be exported, we are now at the verge of needing certification with the establishment of our energetic and very active KOFA and with acquisition of necessary funds to set up our local fruit processing mill.

I would ask that implementation and support in this area, though planned to go ahead in June 2005, be materialised as soon as IFAD sees it proper.  I would request too that such support be country specific so that Kiribati could have a chance not only to focus on the certification process but in organic farming as well.  KOFA is the mother organisation to all small KOFAs through out the islands in Kiribati and therefore assistance in strengthening the mother organisation is seen now as foremost.  The aim here is to have a good operation set-up of the organisation so that it could form a strong operation link with all small KOFAs in the outer-islands and thus a good flow of local produce from outer islands to main market in Tarawa, the capital.  Possible assistance in leading our KOFA to join international bodies could be sought from the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements [IFOAM].

The next stage then would be in the certification, as this would be necessary in view of the anticipated surplus produce as a result of a strengthened KOFA in Tarawa and in the outer-islands.  In addition, the benefits of the strengthened KOFA country wide will ensure the viability and sustainability of the fruit mill which will be set up soon.

The multiform benefit from the assistance would be experienced in the boosting of organic farming activities in all of the outer islands and to result in access to strong supply base of locally grown food for home consumption and for extra cash earning.  The macro benefit will be seen in the lessened reliance in imported food products.

The second proposal that my delegation would like to take up at this meeting is on Training Centres for Farmers and Fishermen in the Outer Islands

We understand that most Asian countries who are members of IFAD have enjoyed this scheme of assistance and so Kiribati is very much interested to partake in this form of assistance.  As it is known, Kiribati is surrounded by sea and land or soil condition is very a limitation compared to other countries in the world.

This is why the centres are seen as the necessity especially in putting available at all times all up-to-date technologies on farming that would blend and enhance traditional farming skills for farmers and same thing to fishermen.  As a way of life, I-Kiribati are great farmers and fishermen as proven by their ability to conquer the poor conditions of the soil and also to conquer the oceans.  However, hardship and difficulty are always obligatory aspects that each farmer and fisherman would have to encounter and therefore the I-Kiribati easy-switch in preference to imported food.

The centres would act as powerhouses in the outer-islands, which continuously support farming and fishing activities in the outer islands.  Our agricultural and fisheries extension officers will act as operators of the centres.  They will teach new farming activities and better fishing practices.  Also the centres will always be stocked with planting materials, farming tools and fishing gears.  So while the Government will remain in the key player as far as technical support is concerned, the centres, at a certain timeframe, will have to self-finance its own stock.

Another advantage of this centre proposal is in strengthening the KOFA activities in the outer islands.  Our Ministry has identified one of the key reasons why farming in the outer-islands is always slacking, and that is in the constant short supply of planting materials.  With the KOFA management (including fishermen), a nationwide type of cooperative for farmers could be formed with total control on all of its resources including market components of the training centres.

Envisioned results would be in the KOFA's ability, through these centres, to play as marketing role farmers, to actually see the needs of farmers (and fishermen) and to respond to them accordingly.  The centres will become a backbone of our first proposal.

In conclusion, Mr.Chairman, allow me to make a special plea to this important gathering.

As a newly appointed Governor from the Republic of Kiribati, let me share with you an emotional concern of my country over the negative impacts of climate change on not only our IFADs initiatives to uplift us all from undesirable status of the rural poor to overcome poverty, food and agriculture but also on the important impact on human existence.  Question is what is our and IFAD's purposes without addressing the important issue of ‘Climate Change', and more so for the Small Low Lying Island Coral and Atoll Countries of the world like Kiribati, Tuvalu Marshall Islands, Niue, Tokelau and many others.   Sea level rise is a reality and the tides are eating away our shores at an alarming rate.  We are indeed engulfed in the fear that the basis for our agriculture and food, which is ground water, is now getting saltier than ever.  I wish to grasp this opportunity and seek international help and support of this IFAD Governing Council/Conference to help us convince all and especially major contributors to the global warming to realize the needs of smaller and vulnerable island countries that have the least capacity to withstand the effects of global warming.

Chairman, These are the kind of issues that greatly worry us for the rural poor on the small low lying island coral atoll countries and food security concerns and moreover for our existence we really do not wish to sink - I believe that you all will help me find a solution, if not in this Conference, perhaps in other international arenas.

Thank you all and God Bless!