Suva, Fiji – Given the significance of agriculture to the Pacific region, a workshop currently underway in Suva aims to assist Pacific governments to better plan and target public spending on agriculture and to increase value for money in public agriculture expenditure.
The three day workshop, a collaborative effort between the European Union supported Pacific Agriculture Policy Project at the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) and the World Bank, is targeting senior agriculture, forestry, finance, and treasury officials from the governments of Cook Islands, Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Timor-Leste, Tonga, and Vanuatu.
In 2011-2012, the agriculture sector accounted for 3 to 24 percent of Pacific Island economies and employed between 20 and 50 percent of workers in the larger Pacific Island countries. Despite this, over the same period, the sector was allocated only 1 to 3 percent of government budgets.
In his opening speech yesterday, Fiji's Permanent Secretary for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Shaheen Ali, said “spending on agriculture in Fiji actually increased by 40 percent from 2012 to 2015 but budgetary contributions to the sector have not increased dramatically in the Pacific."
Ali attributed this to a lack of rigorous testing of large agricultural investments and a lack of accountability.
This underlines the importance of Agriculture Public Expenditure Reviews (PERs) which are tailored to the Pacific and support governments to monitor the effectiveness of spending in the sector.
The Head of the European Union Delegation for the Pacific, H.E. Ambassador Andrew Jacobs said "as public budgets for agriculture are relatively small in the region, it is of utmost importance that they are efficiently allocated and executed in order to promote inclusive and sustainable development. This is what Public Expenditure Reviews, and this workshop, should help you achieve."
Ambassador Jacobs further added, "In 2016 the EU will launch important support initiatives for the agriculture sectors in Vanuatu (€25 million), Solomon Islands (€10 million) and Fiji (€20 million). For all these initiatives the EU is seeking to implement budget support programmes. This means moving away from a project approach to initiatives that put the entire management responsibility on the beneficiary governments and their ministries of agriculture. The focus of the workshop is therefore very timely."
The World Bank is leading the first part of the workshop which introduces Public Expenditure Reviews for the agriculture sector in the Pacific.
“The workshop and initial phase of PERs is only the first step. PERs are intensive exercises but are critical to provide the evidence and make claims for further allocations,” stated SPC’s Pacific Agriculture Policy Project (PAPP) Team Leader, Vili Caniogo.
“It is clear that allocations for the agriculture sector in the region need to increase. But there is a need for existing expenditure allocations to be effectively targeted, spent and that there is evidence that results are being produced.”
This workshop outlines the role of well-targeted government expenditure in strengthening growth and reducing poverty through the agriculture sector and will include case studies from around the world.
The second part of the workshop which takes place tomorrow will bring together senior agriculture policy planners to discuss key regional policy initiatives that are currently being developed by SPC, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and other partners.
The workshop concludes on 24 September.