17 Oct 2022

Pacific needs to re-evaluate its reliance on imported goods says researcher

3:26 pm on 17 October 2022
Dr Fiona Hukula

Dr Fiona Hukula Photo: Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat

The Covid-19 pandemic posed many challenges for Pacific Island countries but also allowed communities to return to a more traditional way of life.

One of the leading researchers for the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat Dr Fiona Hukula said the pandemic saw our islands tapping into their ability to live off our land and sea.

Hukula added during the height of the pandemic; Pacific peoples were able to reflect on their dependence on imported goods, especially food and how they could live a more healthy and sustainable life.

"For example, research in Fiji and Solomon Islands showed that there was a reinvigoration of local food systems and local food production as well as the re-emergence of cultural safety networks and values such as the barter system," Hukula said.

She explained that there would be many health benefits for Pacific communities if a shift from their dependency on imported goods were implemented.

"In some countries, we've got high levels of obesity and lifestyle diseases like diabetes. So, during the lockdowns, when we returned to our traditional cultural food and sustainability practices, communities experienced changes in their health."

Can a traditional lifestyle survive in an urban society?

Hukula said with urbanisation becoming more prevalent in Pacific countries, striking the right balance is the solution.

"Ensuring that we are consuming food that is better for us in terms of health while only relying on imported goods where necessary is vital," explained Hukula.

She added a collective initiative where individuals and the government work together to sustain a traditional lifestyle structure in today's society.

"Rural migration is growing in our Pacific cities, so having access to local produce and markets are essential. When people move into cities, they lose their traditional lifestyle, affecting their health.

"So, if we maintain good access and promote the consumption of fresh food, then we minimise the risks of vulnerability to imported foods and increase the ability to feed our populations," Hukula explained.

The impending effects of climate change on our communities also play a crucial role in the success of this model.

"We know that our Pacific people are very resilient and have lived off the land for generations, so establishing a framework that supports the people's effort to adapt to climate-related issues is of uttermost importance."

"Climate action is the key. It's really about understanding the needs of local people and how they are working or addressing the issues they face in their communities and villages every day around climate change. Because only when we do that and understand the issues from the very local setting can we provide interventions."

Hukula reiterated that finding a balance to sustain a Pacific traditional lifestyle within a modernised society was essential now more than ever as the Pacific's growing health concerns and climatic issues continue to stack up.

"We live in a modern world, and so our lifestyle and eating habits are always changing, but I think we still have the opportunity to live off our land and sea as our ancestors did."

Import bill for the Pacific

The World Bank, in its latest report on Imports of goods and services from the small Pacific island states, revealed that in 2020, the Pacific imports against its GDP accounted for 47.3 percent for nine countries.

Last year alone, Nauru imported 106.3 per cent of goods against its GDP, followed by the Federal States of Micronesia at 71.5 per cent and Samoa and Fiji at 52.4 per cent and 49.9 per cent, respectively.

The report also revealed that Pacific countries like Nauru, Timor-Leste, American Samoa, Kiribati, Federal States of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Tonga are among the top 50 countries to import goods.