Curbing Imports to Reduce Hunger in Micronesia

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SEATTLE — The Federated States of Micronesia is a country in the western Pacific Ocean with a population of 102,000 people, of whom nearly 78 percent are rural. It is composed of more than 600 islands and islets in the Caroline Islands archipelago and is divided roughly along cultural and linguistic lines into four states: Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae (west to east). The capital is Palikir, on the island of Pohnpei.

Farming and fishing are the principal economic activities of Micronesia. The main staples are breadfruit, taros, coconuts and bananas, but yams, cassava and sweet potatoes also are grown on some of the high islands. Poultry, pigs and dogs are sometimes also raised for food.

Much of the Federated States’ food, including rice, fruits, vegetables, meat and fish, and nearly all manufactured goods and fuel are not produced on theĀ islands and must be imported. Over the course of past decades, the traditional diet was largely displaced by imported processed foods. Imports, which come primarily from the United States, Guam, Japan, the Philippines and Singapore, also include machinery and transport equipment. Marine products are the primary export; other significant exports are garments, betel nuts and copra. The major export destinations are Guam, the United States and the Northern Marianas.

Hunger in Micronesia is not a national problem, but over time, reliance on imported foods of poor nutritional value substituted the consumption of traditional local foods, which resulted in malnutrition and significant health problems. The impact of these poor nutritional choices is by no means limited to a small percentage or segment of the population: diabetes, high blood pressure, anemia, vitamin A and iron deficiencies, low birth-weight babies and high infant mortality rates are endemic to the nation.

For more than two decades, the Salvation Army has worked in the states of Pohnpei and Chuuk to reduce poverty. Primary food aid was a big step for development. Economic growth, especially broad-based growth in agriculture and the rural economy, is a necessary condition for reducing poverty and hunger in Micronesia. Concrete steps have been taken to promote agriculture and rural development. Increases in local food production resulted in improved economic stability and healthy living. Malnutrition among children was greatly reduced and consequently, they are able to enjoy and benefit from their education.

By adopting the Rome Declaration on World Food Security and the World Food Summit Plan of Action, Micronesia committed to the eradication of malnutrition and hunger in Micronesia and achieving food security for all. The program of economic reform in the country will increase the cost of imports, particularly of food and other substitutable products, and thereby encourage consumption of traditional, local foods.

The increased demand for local products could improve the financial viability of the local industries, as well as increase food exports. Both the resulting economy and nutritional health will be stronger and more resilient to changes in the international environment.

Yana Emets

Photo: Flickr

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