Secretary of Agriculture Temarama Anguna-Kamana spoke by video-link to an international forum, the Local2030 Islands Network.
The agriculture ministry must support private farmers, she said afterwards. “But we must also include our women, our youth, our non-government organisations, our communities … they too, play key roles in the agriculture sector.”
Anguna-Kamana said a lesson to learn from the Covid-19 pandemic was the importance of planting to sustain food security for one’s household.
“Grow some of the food you consume for improved health and nutrition and having home grown products can reduce the food bill. Try organic planting or reduce the use of chemicals and focus on soil management and improved soil nutrition
The Local2030 network advances solutions to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals – with a new focus on food security in the context of Covid-19.
She said Cook Islands primary sector needed to build back better, with increased sustainability.
“Pacific islands are heavily dependent on imported food – in some islands this can be more than 90 per cent – while others before Covid-19 were trying to improve their food security.
“Others face food security issues that are worsened by the economic implications of the pandemic.”
Anguna-Kamana said there was a need to ensure island communities had access to food during and after the Covid-19 crisis, and that mean taking the opportunity to rejuvenate local food systems.
The network explored responses like agricultural stimulus packages, the impact of the shutdown on the cost and availability of imported food, and increasing local food production.
As the country reset its agriculture sector and rebuilt its economy, Cook Islands borders must still be protected from exotic pests and diseases.
“Our biosecurity system must remain strong to safeguard our way of life, our unique island environment and the health and wellbeing of our communities,” she said.
“As we face this prolonged pandemic, we must make every effort to keep our local food supply chain moving.”
Anguna-Kamana said Cook Islands should cultivate niche market products for export potential, and expand the range of value-added products.
She urged the public to work with the Ministry of Agriculture. “Collaboration and unity are the key to take our small paradise through this economic recovery phase and restore agriculture back to its former status as a primary economic sector for the Cook Islands”.