Bakhodir Burkhanov: On the appointment of Celebrity Chef Robert Oliver as the UNDP Pacific Office’s Advocate for Food, Sustainable Development and Wellbeing

Nov 24, 2017

Colleagues from the government, diplomatic corps, regional and international organizations, civil society, private sector, media and UN colleagues:

I am delighted to welcome you all to this lunch-time event on behalf of the UNDP Pacific Office in Fiji. Thank you for being with us on this special occasion. 

Today we celebrate the appointment of Chef Robert Oliver as our Pacific Advocate for Food, Sustainable Development and Wellbeing. 

Robert is no stranger to UNDP having advised a number of our projects. We know him as someone who is genuinely passionate about human development, and who has deep connections with the Pacific Islands’ people and cultures.

Throughout his busy and successful career spanning media, reality TV, restaurant development and authoring internationally acclaimed cookbooks, Robert has invested his time and energy in supporting organic farming and sustainable fisheries, engaging rural communities, and linking women and youth to business opportunities.

Anyone who has seen Robert’s work – in any of the media that he has mastered – knows he’s passionate about food. But he is committed not just to creating great cuisine, but to ensuring that it is anchored in local culture; that it empowers local producers and communities; and showcases the best the Pacific has to offer. In the broadest sense of the term, Robert is a social entrepreneur and a powerful health advocate.

Last month, one of the largest epidemiological studies ever conducted across the globe (by the World Health Organisation) found that in just four decades obesity among children and adolescents has increased 10 folds . Shockingly, the 10 countries with the greatest increase in obesity among youth are all Pacific Island Countries. 

Obesity predisposes to heart diseases, stroke, diabetes and cancer. These are already the leading causes of preventable deaths in the region, which has declared an NCD crisis six years ago. 

In many ways, this rise of obesity and non-communicable diseases globally is a symptom of unsustainable development choices. 

Human health today is better than at any time in history and the total number of people living in extreme poverty has fallen by close to a billion globally over the past 30 years. Yet, the alarming childhood obesity statistics and data on pollution and carbon emissions tell us that the rapid economic progress we have seen over the past decades has come at the expense of future generations .

Food systems play a pivotal role on both human and planetary health. Healthier diets are a critical part of the solution to reduce both the burden of NCDs, but also the emissions causing climate change. More sustainable and healthier food systems can also create more jobs locally.

To me, this represents just one example of the many complex and interconnected challenges we need to tackle through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We are realising, perhaps more than ever now, that development issues cannot be addressed in silos, and that progress in one area can be undone by neglect of another.

The key messages of the SDGs is that inclusive economic growth for the present and future generations cannot be achieved without social development, environmental protection and climate action, without improved health and wellbeing, or without more responsible production and consumption patterns.

No entity – whether state or non-state – is single-handedly able to address these interconnected challenges. We need stronger leadership to break the silos, and innovators and risk-takers to align business interests with a social agenda that leaves no one behind. We need communicators who can render these policy issues in ‘human language’ to inform communities and energise them to act.

Chef Robert Oliver, I’d like to think that you embody quite a few of these roles from your many fields of activity. By leveraging your influence in the food and media space around the Pacific region and beyond, you can help us shine a spotlight on the vital links between food, sustainable development and wellbeing.

On behalf of UNDP and our partners across 15 Pacific Island Countries, welcome on board! We are honoured to work with you hand in hand, and benefit from your insight, talents and prestige in our shared goal of making Pacific communities healthier, happier and more prosperous!

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