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We are gods – SIDS 2014 conference in Samoa

This whole week I’ve been eating “gro manze” for lunch and dinner. Crazy, you say. But this is the staple food of many islanders all over the world including our own ancestors


Gro manze at Nature Seychelles’ Heritage (organic) Garden

Small Islands, Big Food 
I’m in Samoa attending the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) third international meeting as part of the Seychelles delegation at the kind invitation of President James Michel. “Lerouy” (or taro), breadfruit, bananas and plantains are the staple of Samoans, and in fact many Pacific islanders. Everywhere you care to look, in every garden even in the conference center grounds, “gro manze” (literally translated as big food in English) are so common I can only describe Samoa as an Edible Landscape. Samoans make sure that all households are food secure – I suppose the way Seychellois did in the past with the similar crops. But the food choice is extremely limited. A disease for example or rising sea levels could wipe out one or more of these staples and people would starve. Seychelles is different, you say. We have a wider choice of foods, you would argue. But, hang on, unlike the Samoans we import 70% of non-fish foodstuffs! We are so dependent on foreign food for food and nutrition security I get a headache thinking about all the implications.

Does Size Matter?
The UN’s big boss Ban Ki-moon said that “Samoa is small in size but big in heart” at the opening of the SIDS meeting. No matter how we spin it, the challenge facing all small island developing states is usually described as one of size. Many SIDS are not large enough to have proper infrastructure, their populations are small which result in lack of capacities, the economies are miniscule which cause a host of problems including inability to reach, what economists call, economies of scale, they do not have mineral resources, their small sizes are not attractive enough to interest large investors outside the tourism industry. But at the end of the day it’s really about limited options. Seychelles may have greater food diversity than Samoa but our development options are almost similar – narrowly funneled into only tourism and fisheries. Our cross to bear is energy. Despite more than 100 studies and reports on alternative and renewable energy since Independence we have, because of the limitations of size versus cost, been forced into extreme fossil fuel addiction. This is a massive drain on the country’s foreign currency reserves and has also resulted in a large carbon footprint.

Everyone talks about the climate but no one does anything about it

Ban Ki Moon planting mangroves in Kiribati. Mangroves protect against rising sea levels caused by climate change photo-Eskinder Debebe

Ban Ki Moon planting mangroves in Kiribati. photo-Eskinder Debebe

“We should recognize climate change for what it is: a collective crime against humanity… its robbing island nations of their right to exist” said President Michel in a hard-hitting address at the opening of the SIDS meeting. I believe the President said this is not only because we could be wiped out by rising sea levels or increased storms, but because climate change is constantly reducing our natural capital and in turn our economic options. Reefs have died, affecting fisheries, dive tourism, coastal protection and sandy beaches. Increased rains lead to flooding affecting homes, industry and other infrastructure. Extreme droughts need to be managed through more water reservoirs, deployment of bowsers and critically, desalination plants. The investments needed to adapt to climate change and to protect against future impacts are immense. These moneys could have been better used for much needed development. And, that’s the point the President was making: scarce funds are being used to deal with problems that other countries have caused.

The Tyranny of GDP
Seychelles like several other island states have reached middle income status. This is great because it means our development trajectory has been the right one. But, paradoxically, middle income status has squeezed our options even more. President Michel outlined some of the challenges at the SIDS Meeting. The huge reduction of foreign aid is well known to many Seychellois who care to know about such things -our GDP per capita is supposed to be the highest in Africa and this has made us “graduate” from being a country that received foreign aid to one that doesn’t need this assistance any more. This is in itself a problem. But what most people don’t know is that the cost of running a government or a business in such a small country is very high. In other words the per capita cost to the economy is very high and most things we do become costly, many times uncompetitive, and sometimes prohibitive.

A New Deal

President Michel at the opening of the SIDS 2014 conference photo - Mervyn Marie

President Michel at the opening of the SIDS 2014 conference photo – Mervyn Marie

President Michel reached out to the rich nations on behalf of all SIDS this week requesting a “fair deal for SIDS”. Seychelles and other SIDS need to be treated differently than other nations by the United Nations and by bilateral partners. “Countries like Seychelles don’t need just aid…we don’t need handouts. We need access to development mechanisms that take consideration of our vulnerabilities” said the President. In fact the President is putting money where his mouth is, so to speak. Seychelles is a pilot country for a project funded by the UN and the EU to test a new tool called the Vulnerability Resilience Profile. This project will assist Seychelles to collect solid data and put in place indicators for the purpose of developing what is being called “beyond-GDP” measures that will be vital for Seychelles to make a case to donors for increased funding and other forms of partnerships.

Reality Check
For us to understand the reality of Seychelles and all SIDS we first have to re-orient the way we perceive these bits of land floating in vast seas. Seychelles is a Great Ocean Developing State (GODS) or Big Ocean Small State (BOSS). This may sound frivolous but its high time for it sink in (pardon the pun) that most of our country is made of ocean space. If the United Nations and rich countries only grasped this they would understand the challenges that a country with only about 50,000 people in its workforce faces to manage more than 1 million square kilometers of territory – an Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) that is bigger than France, Spain and Portugal land areas combined. But, with such a huge territory containing all kinds of riches, Seychelles can turn adversity into opportunities. Ocean-related resources and activities hold huge potential for the future and can leapfrog our tiny economy to the next level by creating new wealth for all through sustainable fishing, ecotourism, marine based energy production, new pharmaceutical products from marine animals and plants, ecosystem restoration and conservation, marine research and much more. What is now labelled the Blue Economy seems to be our future.

Partnerships for a Blue Society

Cultural Opening Ceremony of the SIDS 2014 conference photo - Evan Schneider

Cultural Opening Ceremony of the SIDS 2014 conference photo – Evan Schneider

To link people and the sea to become pioneers of a Blue Society is the next step. The ocean is the new frontier. But how do we go where few have gone before? Where do we get the resources needed? For us to become real GODS and BOSS we need to devise new ways of doing things and for living together. We are one of the 5 smallest sovereign nations in the world, with a diminutive economy, a tiny population, and distant from markets and knowledge centers. How can we make the Paradigm Shift first and secondly sustain the momentum both as a nation and as individuals? The government cannot do it alone. Neither can the private sector, nor civil society on their own. There are just not enough people and capital in any one of these “sectors”. The only way, is for us to forge genuine and mutually respectful partnerships and combine social and financial capital.

National Unity is the answer
We are not alone in this journey. Most SIDS share the same struggle. At the SIDS meeting it was Tommy Remengesau , the forward thinking President of Palau, who said “The future problems are not going to be solved by governments but by the private sector and civil society ”. But, Seychelles is polarized, with antagonistic relationships the norm rather than the exception. This divisive and sometimes corrosive situation we find ourselves in is holding us back, blinding us to our heritage, our potential, and in fact our destiny. We need Patriots who can put aside personal gain and differences. We need Innovators who look to the future and not seek to relive the past. Role Models who celebrate successes but don’t disown failures. Champions who create not imitate. Change Makers who are trouble shooters not trouble makers. Thought Leaders who are secure in their own skin but who can move out of their comfort zones. Where are those people? They can be found in the private sector and civil society. President Michel has made a personal step forward in creating the National Forum but it’s a leap for all Seychellois. The Forum is made up of private citizens, people of good will who have distinguished themselves as leaders and champions in their respective domains. Now it’s up to everyone else to step up.

by Dr Nirmal Shah (Nature Seychelles CEO)




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 Recognising that the role, contribution and position of civil society in the Republic of Seychelles have not been captured by the draft national report on Sustainable Development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS),

 We hereby state that; multi-sectorial engagement and commitment of governments with civil society is vital to the promotion of sustainable development in Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

 The publication of SIDS-SIDS Success Stories: An innovative partnership in South-South Cooperation (2010) reinforced the importance of multi-sectorial engagement and commitment of governments with civil society. Positive gains made towards Climate Change Adaptation, Sustainable Development Education and Disaster Risk Management was partly due to civil society participation in the exchange of ideas, best practices and experiences.

 The importance of civil society to development within SIDS was highlighted as far back as 2005 during the opening of the Civil Society Forum. It saw Mr Anwarul K. Chowdhury, in his capacity as Secretary- General of the International Meeting for the 10 year Review of the Barbados Programme of Action for the Sustainable Development of SIDS, stress the indispensability of civil society in the implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action (1994). The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) also recognizes that engagement with civil society is important to ‘national ownership of development processes, democratic governance, and the quality and relevance of official development programmes’ (UNDP Engagement with Civil Society-

In the Republic of Seychelles, the Liaison Unit of Non-Governmental Organisations, Seychelles (LUNGOS) speaks on behalf of over one hundred and fifty Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in the country. LUNGOS brings together CSOs through its eight thematic commissions Commissions. They include the Social and Health, Socio-Economic, Professional Organisations, Faith Based Organisations, Rights and Governance, Gender, Environment and Natural Resources and the Youth, Culture and Sports Commissions. The commissions’ far reaching and cross cutting cooperation allows for collective dialogue, collaboration and action of CSOs ( LUNGOS is currently undergoing a transformation to position itself as the national civil society platform. This project is being funded by the European Union (EU) and managed by the UNDP under the consultancy guidance of the Seychelles Institute of Management. The national platform aims to better represent the needs and aspirations of the citizens of Seychelles as denoted in Article 24 (1) (a) of the Constitution of the Republic of Seychelles which states that citizens have the right “to take part in the conduct of public affairs…” [Constitution of the Republic of Seychelles, Revised Edition 1994, Seychellois Charter of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms, Chapter III, Part I, Article 24 (1) (a)].

 Engagement between state and non-state actors is primordial to the effective functioning of the national civil society platform and the realization of participation in policy decision making (Memorandum of Understanding between the Government of Seychelles and Non-Governmental Organisations in Seychelles, 2009-2013). One key mode of partnership is the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between LUNGOS (as the focal point of non-governmental organisations) and the Ministry of Social Affairs, Community Development and Sports (as the focal point identified by Government representing NGO-Government relations) (Ibid). The MOU provides the opportunity for NGOs to participate in arenas of policy making especially through various committees which act as interfaces to Government on policy issues. Consequently this creates the opportunity for CSOs and NGOs to fulfill their roles in influencing inclusive policy making. Within the framework of SIDS, the partnership between NGOs, governments, intergovernmental organisations and agencies is a vital collaboration to the implementation of Agenda 21 of the Barbados Programme of Action (1994) [Report of the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, Declaration of Barbados, Part One, VII (1): 1994].

The Declaration of Barbados and the Programme of Action for Sustainable Development of SIDS (1994) finds the role of people beneficial to the practice of sustainable development (Report of the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, Declaration of Barbados, Part One, #1). The contribution of human resources and cultural heritage proves more pertinent today due to the scarcity of both resources (Ibid). The President of the Republic of Seychelles has on many occasions emphasised a people centred development process, especially in the case where SIDS face restrictions of a general lack of human resource and human capital (State of the Nation Address 2013 of the Republic of the Seychelles-Sustainable Development). LUNGOS believes that SIDS should tap into all available human resource potential, and make use of the vast expertise within civil society organisations to compensate for the lack of human resource capabilities within our respective countries. Domestically, there has been an increase in partnering for projects of national significance; however, LUNGOS believes there should be more outsourcing of public services to the NGO sector.

 It is acknowledged that civil society’s capability in soliciting national and international support is a vital method of promoting human resources development programmes through education, training and skills development (Report of the Global Conference on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States, Declaration of Barbados, Human Resource Development, # 82: 1994). Bearing in mind, the enhanced vulnerability of SIDS to economic shocks and natural hazards in comparison to other countries and regions, governments should further strengthen its partnership with civil society (UNDP Capacity 21 Project, The Growing       Vulnerability of Small Island Developing States: 2002).


LUNGOS, Mahe, Seychelles, June 2013

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The Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS),


A Concept Note of the Secretariat of the Steering Committee of the AIMS region

1.0 Background

In the context of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) scheduled from September 1 to 4, 2014 in Apia, Samoa, the Steering Committee of the Civil Society of the AIMS region has started a preparatory process leading to the International Conference.

Since the conceptualisation of the ‘Small Island Developing States’ (SIDS) in 1992 at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio, SIDS have emerged as a major player within the UN systems as well as on the international scene.  The organisation of the UN Global Conference on the sustainable development of Small Island Developing States in 1994 in Barbados and its subsequent outcome in the form of a blueprint known as the Barbados Programme of Action (BPoA) constitute a major milestone in the sustainable development process and has led formally to the recognition of SIDS as being a special case for sustainable development.  For the ‘Centre de Documentation, de Recherches et de Formation Indianocéaniques (CEDREFI) and its NGO partners  in the islands of the South West Indian Ocean, it was natural to adopt the BPoA as a framework in order to contribute in the sustainable development process of the islands of the sub-region. The island and regional cooperation focus of CEDREFI and its NGO partners in the sub-region were conducive, on the one hand to develop collaborative actions among themselves and on the other hand, to engage with our respective government and national institutions in policy dialogue on the implementation of sustainable development in the context of the BPoA and the Mauritius Strategy. CEDREFI facilitated a process whereby an AIMS steering committee was put in place for preparation for the High-Level United Nations (UN) Meeting of 2005 in Mauritius and for planning and implementation beyond. This Steering Committee consists of CEDREFI (Mauritius), Nature Seychelles (Seychelles), ULANGA (Comores), SHASI (Maldives).

2.0 Partnership with the Indian Ocean Commission.

These actions were reinforced through regular collaborations with the Indian Ocean Commission since its inception in 1982.  The BPoA in 1994 consolidated this partnership process and subsequently led to a stronger working relationship with the IOC during the preparatory process of the High-Level United Nations (UN) Meeting of 2005 in Mauritius and the partnership process that was set up between CEDREFI as the convenor of the Civil Society Forum and the IOC, the European Union, UNESCO, UNDESA, UNDP and the Government of Mauritius through the Ministry of Environment.  Furthermore, during the preparatory process leading to the Mauritius International Meeting, it was an opportunity to network with the islands of Sao Tome & Principe and Cap Verde in the Atlantic Ocean.

3.0 Sustainable Island Living Concept.

During the preparatory process and as a contribution to the implementation of the ‘Mauritius Strategy’, the concept of ‘Sustainable Island Living’, which was formulated by the network ‘Small Islands Voice’ of UNESCO, was adopted by both CEDREFI and Nature Seychelles as a new paradigm in moving the sustainable development agenda forward. Sustainable island living personalizes a process that enables everybody to enjoy a decent living and a good quality of life in terms of satisfying their needs (economic, social, ecological and cultural) and creates an enabling environment for the future generation to fulfill its aspirations.  It provides for the control and distribution of resources and the decentralization of decision-making.  Furthermore, it is based on core values such as a culture of partnership based on shared vision, good governance, autonomy of the community, and participatory approaches.  The intention is to build a solid foundation with major groups within civil society and focus efforts involving dialogue, analysis and action on core issues and challenges identified in the Mauritius Strategy.  The partnership with major groups has been on-going since 15 years and will continue with the preparatory process leading to Samoa International Conference.

4.0 Civil Society Process for Samoa 2014

It is in the perspective of an integrated and participatory approach that the NGOs and other civil society groups of the islands of the AIMS region have embarked themselves in a civil society preparatory process leading to the SAMOA International Conference.  In this context the AIMS Steering Committee has planned national and regional activities with the objective of developing common positions at various stages of the UN Preparatory process and producing a civil society regional report as a contribution to the Samoa Conference. A first communication of the Civil Society of the AIMS region will be prepared for the UN regional meeting of the region in the Seychelles in July this year.

4.1 Multi-Stakeholders Participatory Approach

The Steering Committee of the AIMS Civil Society Process is in agreement with the objectives set by the United Nations General Assembly.  In this context, we are planning to have at least a regional meeting of Civil Society Organisations prior to the Samoa Conference in order to finalise the civil society report.  At national level, each civil society focal point of the AIMS region is developing a specific review programme adapted to the national context and realities of each SIDS of the region. An indicative list of national activities has been finalised and include among others ‘a policy dialogue forum on the thematic issues of the “Mauritius Strategy”, a consultative process with grass roots organisations and communities, an NGO fair’.  An ‘Integrated Forum’ will bring together the output of all these national activities, and the latter will feed in the civil society regional process.

5.0 The Way Forward

On the road to ‘SAMOA 2014’ the Steering Committee of AIMS Civil Society Process expressed the wish to become a dialogue partner with the national governments of the AIMS region, UNDESA, UNDP, IOC and other international stakeholders during the preparatory process.  More concretely, the Steering Committee would like to have the opportunity to engage in the UN processes at both regional and inter-regional levels in order to present its views at the plenary sessions of these meetings such as the scheduled regional meeting in the Seychelles in July 2013.  We also take the commitment to submit our final report to our partners and engage on a regular basis with them a policy dialogue on the path of sustainability.  Finally, the preparatory process is an opportunity for the civil society of the region to reflect on how to consolidate the regional structuring process in order to be able to participate actively in the monitoring and follow-up of the Samoa outcome.

May 2013

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First Regional Declaration of the SIDS Civil Society of the AIMS region

The Civil Society Steering Committee of the AIMS region welcomes the convening of the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) scheduled from September 2014 in Apia, Samoa.  Each  national civil society focal point in the AIMS region is currently actively engaged in a preparatory process at national level and will seize all opportunities offered by national, regional and international processes to participate and contribute in defending and promoting the interests of SIDS.

Despite the reaffirmation of the relevance and importance of the Barbados Programme of Action (1994) and the Mauritius Strategy(2005) in several national, regional and international fora, the implementation has been far from  satisfactory.  In fact, past mistakes must not be repeated and the international community should ensure that past commitments are respected.  Lessons learned from our engagement in the implementation of the BPoA and the Mauritius Strategy, demonstrate that unless, we, Civil Society and Government, recognise not only our commonalties but also our differences and independence and put in place  a new partnership based on respect, shared information and a collaborative implementation framework, existing and emerging threats will undermine and in some cases destroy entire island societies in the  the AIMS region.

It is within this context that we are making the following recommendations to governments of the region and national and international partners:

National level

  • Integrate a representative of civil society of each SIDS of the region in the national delegation for the Samoa International Conference
  • Strengthened existing coordinating and monitoring mechanism for the outcomes of Samoa 2014.
  • Facilitate the participation of the Seychelles Civil Society in the AIMS regional meeting in July in the Seychelles.
  • Disseminate and popularise the outcomes of the International Conference in Samoa in partnership with civil society
  • Affirm that civil society groups and communities must be integrated in the core of policy-making
  • Enhance successful local  practices relating to sustainable development.
  • Facilitate adequate space and project funding for civil society groups in implementation of the Samoa recommendations
  • Ensure policy coherence between the outcomes of the Samoa recommendations and other international conventions and the eventual UN Sustainable Development Goals at national level.

Regional level

  • Provide a new mandate to the Indian Ocean Commission to ensure coordination and effective implementation of the recommendations that will come out of Samoa at regional level.  This will imply the integration or participation of non-IOC members (Maldives, Sao Tome & Principe, New Guinea, Cap Verde and Singapore) in the SIDS programme.
  • Ensure that the IOC makes provision for a permanent dialogue and implementation mechanism for NGOs on the outcomes of Samoa.
  • Ensure a time slot at the UN SIDS regional review, schedule in the Seychelles in July 2013, for the Civil Society of the AIMS region to present their position at the meeting


  • Transform the current SIDS unit into a full-fledge division of the UNDESA to better coordinate and further the implementation of the BPoA, the Mauritius Strategy and the Samoa outcome.
  • Develop benchmarks and indicators to facilitate effective monitoring and evaluation programs and mechanism
  • Increase joint funding (Governments and civil society partnerships)  for successful implementation of the Samoa recommendations


Steering Committee Secretariat of the AIMS Region

Dr Nirmal Shah, Chairperson of Steering Committee, C/O Nature Seychelles, Victoria, Mahe, Seychelles. E-mail:  Phone : +248 2711288

Pynee Chellapermal, Secretary General of Steering Committee, C/O CEDREFI, 31 Draper St, Quatre Bornes, Mauritius. E-mail: Phone : +(230) 7942438

June 2013