The FSM’s Tourism Destinations Are Preparing for Open Borders, & the FSM’s Agriculture
Sector Hurts from Lack of Funding; Day 4 of the 2nd Resources & Development Conference

WENO, Chuuk—On January 27th, 2022, the 2nd Resources & Development Conference’s participants engaged in highly spirited discussion on the tourism and agriculture sectors in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Consistent with previous days of the Conference, the agenda described various accomplishments, ongoing projects, pending projects, and challenges and issues facing a given sector, followed by rigorous debate and discussion.

The first session of the day focused on the FSM’s tourism sector. The Honorable Elina Akinaga, Secretary of the Department of Resources & Development, noted that the FSM received 18,019 international visitors in 2019, of whom 60% arrived in Pohnpei State, 28% arrived in Chuuk State, 6% arrived in Yap State, and 6% arrived in Kosrae State. Without belaboring the common awareness that the COVID-19 Pandemic has largely put the tourism sector on life support, the Secretary described that the Nation has taken substantial actions towards strengthening the tourism sector’s resiliency, and preparing it for the day when borders are reopened.

In terms of accomplishments since the 1st Resources & Development Conference, at the level of the National Government, the FSM Tourism Policy and State Investment Plans were both adopted and funded. The previous Tourism Unit was elevated within the Department to become the Division of Tourism. The FSM was the first Pacific Island Country to endorse the Pacific Sustainable Tourism Development Framework, and further the first Pacific Island Country to endorse the Glasgow Tourism Declaration on the margins of COP26.

Ongoing projects at the national level include the continued implementation of the State Tourism Investment Plans, as well as updates to the FSM’s Tourism Policy.

Pending projects at the national level are focused on both branding and investment planning. For the former, there is significant effort towards formally adopting the term “Paradise in Our Backyards” as the FSM’s brand (thematically similar to the Republic of Palau’s “Pristine Paradise Palau” and New Zealand’s “100% Pure”). Additionally, the FSM will be rolling out a US-EDA grant of $1,800,000 to supplement the State Investment Plans, which will occur as soon as the Project Coordinator sets up his office.

The COVID-19 Pandemic’s effect on border closures, limited domestic airline capacity, and arguably irregular scheduling of FSM vessels (as such vessels must conduct not only routine trips but also emergency and evolving situations), has impacted tourism from both international and domestic visitors.

The State of Kosrae presented next. The lack of travelers has given Kosrae a unique opportunity to develop and renovate its tourism and heritage sites. The practical effect is that the Lelu Ruins, the Yela Ka Forest, and Melak Park, have received significant upgrades to their user-experience. Tourism sites have seen the installation of road signage, and safety features such as ropes and bridges. 

Ongoing projects for Kosrae include the renovation of the Kosrae Museum, which intends to be ready by mid-2022. Additionally, the historical site at Mwot Mission School is being worked on.

In the pipeline for Kosrae State is the Kosrae Cultural Center, which is proposed but requires funding. Conversely, the Utwac Biosphere Reserve project has recently received funding sourced from EDA grants.

Moving forward, Kosrae State discussed that it needs to develop a Tourism Recovery Plan for when borders are reopened, and the Pandemic is no longer as significant of a threat.

Yap State described that the Yap Living History Museum has established an organized monthly Island Market, whose popularity within Yap itself is very high and, when borders are reopened, would likely be a place of interest for international visitors. Additionally, several tourism sites have been enhanced, ranging from a World War II site, a traditional stone path, and a traditional fish weir.

In terms of ongoing projects, the Yap Visitors Bureau is dedicating significant time and energy, with financial assistance sourced from the FSM Congress, on expanding the Yap Living History Museum. Construction drawings are presently being developed for what will ultimately become a stage, a large gazebo, public restrooms, and canoe houses.

In terms of projects in the pipeline, Yap has approved funding for the creation of a welcome video to be shown upon arrival at the Yap International Airport, as well as a video library for marketing purposes. It has been advised that the reason the project remains pending—as opposed to being ongoing—is that the videographer is unable to visit the state until such a time when borders reopen.

Like Kosrae State, Yap State advised that it needs to develop a recovery plan for the tourism industry for when borders reopen, and tourists return.

Pohnpei State described that its accomplishments include a 5-year tourism implementation plan, inclusive of the construction of a visitor center at Nan Madol, and the establishment of Nan Madol as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Regarding ongoing projects, Pohnpei State relayed that it is developing a sustainable management plan for tourism sites, including consistent vegetation clearing and maintenance of directional signs. Additionally, the state described that it is providing financial assistance, when available, to eligible businesses in the tourism industry.

Pending projects for Pohnpei State were advised to include the development of Sokehs Ridge, as well as a Mangrove Board Walk that would allow persons to walk through a mangrove sanctuary somewhere in and/or around Kitti and Madolenihmw.

The State of Chuuk described its accomplishments since the 1st Resources & Development Conference as the completion of the Air Charter Feasibility Project, funded by support stemming from the Compact of Free Association, and the completion of small-scale tourism site upgrades, among others.

Ongoing projects for Chuuk were described to include beautification enhancements at tourism sites, as well as the development of marketing materials.

Pending projects for Chuuk were advised to include a grant proposal for expanding and renovating the airport, and the creation of the Mount Tonachaw Hiking Trail. 

The relevant presentation for the tourism sector can be found here:

In the following breakout session, participants were asked to consider the following questions: “What are the main three markets, as a Nation, we should focus on within the next two years?”; “What other tourist markets do you feel we should target?”; “What are the tourist products to be prioritized and developed for marketing?”; and “Identify training needs in your state for when our borders are open.”

Suggested markets remained broadly consistent with previous direction, i.e. a benefit of targeting the U.S. market includes visa-free travel and a common language, a benefit of targeting the Japanese market includes significant blood ties and the FSM-Japan Kizuna (special bond), and a benefit of targeting the Chinese market includes both the close FSM-China Great Friendship, and that the latter’s economic boom has resulted in an enormous middle-class with the money and desire to travel.

There was broad agreement that tourism sector products and activities ought to focus on Micronesian heritage and cultural sites e.g. shipwrecks, the Yap Living History Museum, Nan Madol, and Lelu Ruins, as well as a greater appreciation and emphasis on Micronesian food, both in its raw form (e.g. Yapese lemons, Kosraean tangerines, Chuukese mangoes) and processed form (e.g. taro chips). One group described that a formalized return of historical development-assistance programming such as the U.S. Peace Corps and World Teach could also mean an expansion of persons aware of the FSM who would promote the Nation abroad based on their lived experiences in the country.

There was common agreement that, as the state governments felt the need for recovery plans, training on how to sustainably bring tourists in would be helpful.

The next session focused on the Nation’s agricultural sector.

At the national level, accomplishments include the Biosecurity Act of 2017, the FSM Forestry Action Plan for 2020-2030, and the recent United Nations Food Systems Summit and its corresponding dialogues.

Ongoing projects were described to comprise the Capital Improvement Project on Food Security, the FAO COVID-19 Related Food Insecurity in the Pacific Region program, the SPC/FAO Phase II MICCO19 Program, and the Safeguarding Biodiversity from Invasive Alien Species in the FSM project, among several others.

Pending projects were advised to consist of State Strategic Action Plans for the FSM, the Strengthening the Enabling Environment to Enhance Food Systems in the FSM project, the Enhancing Regional Animal Health Capacity to Prepare and Respond to the Risks of African Swine Fever project, the revision of Quarantine Memorandums of Understanding between the National and State Governments, the revision and creation of new sets of Quarantine Regulations to align with the Biosecurity Act of 2017, and the Little Fire Ant CIP.

Challenges and issues, beyond the Pandemic, include limited capacity (e.g. a total of four persons work in the Division of Agriculture at the National Government), data capture, retrieval, and management issues, and biosecurity in the form of inter-state movement of quarantinable items.

The State of Chuuk presented next, describing accomplishments such as the Coconut Rehabilitation in the Lagoon Islands project, with more than 5,000 coconut trees planted; the construction of artificial taro patches in the outer islands; the completion of the Forest Action plan; and the distribution of gardening guides, tools, and seeds, to more than 2,000 households.

Ongoing projects in Chuuk State were described to range from MICCO19 to the Ridge to Reef Project and Forest Stewardship project.

Chuuk’s pending project was advised to focus on Invasive Plant Species.

Challenges for the State of Chuuk were expressed as concerning a broader lack of funding, the defunding of agricultural sector projects, limited land for agriculture at large and particularly for State Government initiatives, and an absence of agricultural programming in school curricula.

The State of Pohnpei was proud to describe its accomplishment of an agricultural sector revolving fund, which has allowed for consistent availability of seeds, animal medication, fertilizers, and equipment to support farmers. Other accomplishments included a dry litter animal waste management project and fifty (50) biogas systems.

Ongoing projects at Pohnpei State included the MICCO19 project funded by SPC, which in Pohnpei’s context is used in part for the purchase of greenhouses, which are then sold at replacement cost. (Persons wondering why a greenhouse is necessary in one of the rainiest and most flourishing locations in the World will appreciate that it is exactly the intensity of rain in Pohnpei State that makes growing many non-native vegetables impractical, a problem that a greenhouse solves). Other ongoing projects included the ADB-funded food security project and training on the Coconuts 4 Life project.

Pending projects for Pohnpei State were suggested to consist of the development of a tissue culture lab, which would ideally support all FSM states, composting projects to support the production of organic fertilizer, and turning karat (Fei’banana) into baby food.

Yap State expressed that its accomplishments in the agriculture sector include 26,314 tree seedlings distributed to communities and private landowners, 929 piglets being sold to local farmers, the distribution of 5,471 packages of seeds, and the distribution of planting materials from the agriculture seed bank.

Ongoing projects for Yap State include nursery renovation, several U.S. Forest Services-funded projects, the ADB-funded food security project, a project tackling the Little Fire Ant invasion, and invasive plants and fruit-fly management.

Pending projects include FSM Congress’ support to the Little Fire Ant project.

Issues facing Yap State in the agriculture sector included a lack of funding for food security projects, coconut rehabilitation, and tackling the Little Fire Ant invasion. Personnel needs include the hiring of a Livestock Supervisor and Extension Agent Coordinator for the Division of Agriculture & Fisheries. An additional concern is that every grant Yap State receives must go through the Yap Legislature for approval (this is also true at the National Government), leading to significant amounts of time and energy focusing on the needs of bureaucracy.

The State of Kosrae rightly emphasized much pride and happiness in its discussion on its accomplishments, such as the establishment of a coconut nursery, the expansion of green enterprises e.g. Green Banana Paper, RJ Market & Exports etc., and local products such as banana ketchup, pineapple jam, taro flour, tapioca flour, banana chips, breadfruit chips, chili peppers and sauces, herbal medicines, and other products.

Ongoing projects for Kosrae are significant in number and scope, including citrus replantation and farming, poultry farms and piggeries, sweet potato farms, the Tofol Farm Project, and agriculture biogas.

Pending projects for Kosrae State range from biosecurity efforts on tackling whiteflies and coconut termites to multiple Climate Smart Agriculture & livestock projects.

Challenges facing Kosrae are varied, and were cited to include coordination, training and education, supply issues, production technique concerns, lack of technology, financing, and infrastructure, a lack of sufficient regulations and policies, a lack of effective enforcement towards tackling invasive species, and market access for farmers.

The relevant presentation on the agriculture sector can be found here:

In the breakout session that followed, participants were asked to answer the following questions: “Will you please identify the gaps—institutional and structural—within the agriculture sector?”; “How can we improve the services we have in the agriculture sector?”; “What are the challenges and issues within the agriculture sector (and please share proposed solutions as well)”; and “In the next two years, what should be the priority focus area/s in the agriculture sector?”

Lengthy—arguably even slightly heated—dialectic as to what the definition of “food security” is followed, which might itself constitute an institutional or structural gap. Several groups suggested that a common agreement on such a definition would be helpful for the development and dissemination of baseline agricultural census reporting, which were also requested to occur more frequently and in more detail. There was otherwise common agreement that lack of funding and staffing, and lack of political interest to ensure such funding and staffing would be existent, affected the sector in a significant way. Lack of centralized locations for selling products, and lack of Government-Farmer communications, were described as further gaps in the sector.

Regarding the improvement of services, there was lengthy discussion on the translation of technical findings into local vernacular, as well as the acquisition of further financial resources and information sources.

Regarding challenges in the agricultural sector—as distinct from the gaps previously discussed—it was described that there remains a significant misconception of the sector, juxtaposed with a cultural view that agriculture is simultaneously something that everyone knows and practices, but which carries an abject lack of prestige or value. A fundamental lack of interest in agriculture at scale, when compared with the low image of agriculture as a career path, was described to be threatening not only to whatever definition one chooses to ascribe to “food security”, but also for the development and promotion of local goods for sale both within the FSM and abroad.

Regarding what ought to be priority areas of focus over the next two years, there was discussion that biosecurity regulations to support the Biosecurity Act of 2017 are genuinely essential for the Nation’s long-term goals. Overwhelmingly, suggested priorities—from the development of scaled-up food products for both export and substitution of imports, climate smart agriculture techniques, and interstate trade of local produce—would indicate a broader need for both financial support and, just as critically, long-term political commitments from elected leadership at all levels.

The 2nd Resources & Development Conference will continue until the end of January 28th, 2022. Stakeholders interested in the most-detailed reporting after the Conference will wish to be aware that the Department will develop such a report in early February, releasable as a public document.