Dr. Ibrahim Zuhuree,
Deputy Permanent Representative of the Maldives to the United Nations
At the Second Committee
On Agenda Item 24:
Agriculture development, food security and nutrition
16 October 2019
Thank you, Mr. Chairman,
We align ourselves with the statements delivered by Guyana, on behalf of G77 and China, and Belize, on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS).
We thank the Secretary-General for his Report on Agriculture development, food security and nutrition at this seventy-fifth session of the General Assembly. Like the SG, we emphasize the importance of protecting the climate to ensure food security for all people and the link between food security and development.
Although there is no absolute hunger in the Maldives, food security is a vital issue for our country due to the high dependency on the import of staple foods and daily essentials. In the Maldives, dry land comprises less than 1% of the total area, so we are highly dependent on fisheries for domestic food generation—the only food production sector in which we do not rely on imports. We recognize that ending hunger will require improved access to food, mainly through sustainable food systems that respect biodiversity, our natural ecosystems, and are productive, regenerative and resilient.
However, unsustainable use and climate change are causing degradation of the coastal and marine ecosystems, which then threatens the economic and food security of local communities. We must find the right balance of effective protection, sustainable production and equitable prosperity. We have a long tradition of banning harmful fishing methods, such as the use of trawl nets, and we practise traditional safe methods such as pole-and-line fishing, and the remarkable source of expertise and knowledge necessary to safeguard essential food resources from ocean in a sustainable manner.
In 2019, President Solih ratified the Fisheries Act to further strengthen the sustainable use of our marine resources. State-of-the-art technology is now being used in the Maldives to assess the stock of reef fish, including the highly valued grouper stock. The government is also working with international partners such as the World Bank, to modernise the management of our fisheries sector, and to diversify fishing activities in a sustainable manner. We are working closely with multilateral partners such as the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission to provide data and other necessary information to protect the marine environment and to eliminate illegal, unreported and unregulated fisheries in the region.
Almost 90% of the food that is accessible to our citizens is imported. Further, our agriculture sector remains subsistence-focused and its productivity is increasingly threatened by climate change. As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, disruptions in international and domestic food supply chains and other shocks such as climate change are affecting food production, causing loss of incomes and remittances and creating strong tensions and food security risks in many small island developing states. With already inherent inequalities, vulnerable and marginalized women and youth, are bearing the brunt of the economic and social fallout of COVID-19.
To address our heavy reliance on imports and to prevent disproportionate increase in women and youth unemployment, Maldives is committed to further developing agriculture as a vital part of our economy. Currently, we are introducing innovative technologies in the agricultural sector to ensure that farming is a commercially viable and sustainable enterprise, with special focus on women and youth participation. Policies are geared towards the inclusion of disadvantaged groups, which includes women through effective communication tools, positive discrimination and accessibility measures, in order to increase their contribution, as well as their profit share at all stages of the value-chains in the sector. We appreciate the help of international partners such as FAO and IFAD, as well as the private sector, in our joint efforts to invigorate this sector.
Policies and innovations that enable partnerships with women and young people can deliver future economic dividends and provide an avenue for vulnerable and marginalized groups to contribute in a time of crisis.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the Maldives’ economy more than any other country's in South Asia. Tourist arrivals declined by 64 percent in March 2020, before the ban on visitors reduced these figures to zero between April and July 15. Fish exports, which account for 70 percent of all domestic goods exports, were hit incredibly hard by a decline in global demand and transport issues, with many international flights grounded. For the Maldives, the real toll of the pandemic is seen from the thousands of livelihoods affected, especially those of women and youth employed in the guesthouse segment of the tourism sector.
The Maldives remains committed to stimulating our economic recovery and implementing the 2030 Agenda. To buffer the socio-economic impact of the crisis, the Government of Maldives developed a relief package worth 2.9 percent of GDP, comprising financing facilities for businesses and households in the tourism and fisheries sectors, as well as temporary support to workers who have lost their jobs due to this pandemic. On July 15, we opened our borders for international tourism and are now confident that our unique “one-island one-resort” setup can facilitate social distancing and enhance the country’s ability to recover from the crisis. But to ensure a healthy recovery and build back better against future shocks, we need the support of the international community in debt restructuring, bilateral credit guarantees and flexible lending instruments for immediate needs. We thank our bilateral and multilateral partners around the world for the support they have already provided. We call on our development partners for further assistance to reorient our economies towards a more resilient and sustainable model.
As the SG noted, the world is not on track to meet the goal of zero hunger by 2030. If we do not change course quickly, we are facing the prospect of even greater international food insecurity, but by taking a holistic approach to meeting the SDGs related to food, health care and climate change, we can progress toward a future that is free from food insecurity and one that is sustainable for all.
We look forward to the ongoing multilateral efforts of the United Nations and the progress that will be made during this General Assembly.
I thank you.