ladies and gentlemen, dear friends.
I am very pleased to be given the opportunity to address this twenty-first graduation ceremony of the UNU Fisheries Training Programme in Iceland [UNU-FTP].
I would like to congratulate all the twenty-four fellows who are graduating here today – 15 men and nine women from 15 countries in Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Caribbean. You have completed your training – and survived the darkest winter months on this small island in the north! Now as the days are getting longer in Iceland you will return to your home countries, with new experiences and ideas.
My special thanks go to our distinguished director, Tumi, and his team for consistently working to strengthen and improve the programme, placing strong emphasis on practical training while helping fellows to strive for academic excellence. The scope of the Fisheries Training Programme has grown from six graduated fellows from three countries in its starting year in 1998 to a global network of four hundred fellows from over 60 countries at present.
You can all be proud of the programme which serves as key competency centre for fisheries development and research drawing on Icelandic and international expertise from a wide network of partners from the private sector, government and research institutions. We are thankful to all these partners for sharing their knowledge and contributing to our international development efforts.
Moreover, I want to commend Tumi and the staff for their increased focus on gender equality. Not only do they strive for gender-balance among fellows each year, but they have included gender equality into the curriculum of the training programme. This is very important as women globally account for about 50 percent of the workforce in fisheries and aquaculture, and yet, women in developing countries face substantial challenges to engage in and benefit equitably from these sectors. I look forward to seeing the UNU-FTP reach gender parity in the near future and for you as graduates to push the envelope further on gender aspects in the fisheries sector in your countries.
Fisheries are a vital source of food security and nutrition for many, not least vulnerable coastal and small island communities. Furthermore, over three billion people depend on marine and coastal biodiversity for their livelihoods. This we know very well in Iceland where fish has been the lifeline of the nation through the centuries, as its main food supply and its chief export product and the foundations for our economy.
The Sustainable Development Goal 14 recognises the vital importance of the world’s oceans by calling for the conservation and sustainable use of marine resources. Through its training and capacity building activities in fisheries development, the Fisheries Training Programme makes an important contribution to achieving this goal, which is essential to reach several other SDGs and targets.
Promoting the sustainable management and use of natural resources, in particular the fisheries resource, remains one of the key focus areas in Iceland’s international development cooperation – paving the way towards ending poverty, strengthening resilience and fighting inequality. Sustainable management of the fisheries is essential for any country to reach long term economic and social benefits in the sector and I emphasize the long-term vision of sustainable use as essential in this regard.
To this end, institutional capacity building and transfer of knowledge and skills through the UNU training programmes will continue to play an important role in our development cooperation. Increased focus is being placed on seeking opportunities to further integrate their work with Iceland’s wider development efforts, thus linking capacity building to clear results.
Indeed, dear guests, I am pleased to tell you that earlier this year Iceland signed partnership agreements with the Governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone for development cooperation projects supporting SDG 14, which have been prepared in close collaboration with the World Bank. The projects take a holistic and integrated approach to sustainably improve livelihoods and conditions in targeted fishing communities in each respective country. The UNU-FTP is a strategic training partner in the projects, providing capacity building through taking in fellows from partner institutions in Liberia and Sierra Leone for the six months training programme, and building institutional capacity in management and fisheries related sectors.
In fact, in this group of fellows graduating here today there are three from Liberia and two from Sierra Leone who will now be returning to their home countries, ready to get involved in the projects and working towards taking them forward.
Allow me to congratulate you again on your graduation. Over the past six months you have undergone intensive training in your respective field. You have had the chance to share your experiences with each other, the hurdles you face in your work, and – importantly – offer and receive each other’s advice on how to overcome these.
As countries continue to address the challenges of implementing the Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development, learning will play an instrumental role, with knowledge, skills and attitudes being important drivers of change. All of you are equipped with these important instruments and can act as pioneers of change in your home countries, powering the transformation required to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.