by Curlan Campbell
- Meeting prompted by lingering external shocks post-Covid-19 pandemic and global supply chain consequences of Russia-Ukraine war
- Core areas will be used to develop OECS Commission work programme on agriculture for next 3 years
On Friday, the 7th Meeting of the OECS Council of Ministers of Agriculture met in Grenada under the Chairmanship of Hon. Roland Royer, Minister for Blue and Green Economy, Agriculture and Food Security, Commonwealth of Dominica to deliberate on key initiatives on matters which impact the continued drive of the Commission and the member states to address food insecurity and by extension foster sustainable economic development in the region.
Prompting this important meeting held at the Grenada Radisson Beach Resort was the lingering external shocks caused by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and, most recently, the global supply chain consequences of the Russia-Ukraine war. These events, according to the Director General of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean (OECS) Dr Didacus Jules has emphasised the OECS’ vulnerability to increased food insecurity in the region. It is, for this reason, he said that the OECS Food and Agriculture Systems Transformation (FAST) prioritisation strategy must be completed and implemented as a response to the call for increased food security, food self-reliance and agricultural development across the OECS that is driven by data and youth innovation.
Speaking on Thursday’s technical meeting convened to complete the prioritisation process, Dr Jules stated that one of the biggest takeaways was that this strategy cannot be implemented without the collaboration of all countries.
“Because everyone in the food production and distribution and consumption chain has a role and our responsibility to make this happen equally within the OECS Commission, we have a fundamental responsibility to also remove silos at all levels,” said Dr Jules. “We must work to remove the silos that exist within the division within which the first resides. The agriculture unit cannot execute this without recourse to what our colleagues are doing in trade, or in tourism, or the interface with Caricom. We must work to remove the silos that exist between the division so that the interconnection between FAST and food security in schools in communities, the teaching of agriculture in the education system, and the systematic training of farmers initiatives for greater youth engagement in agriculture, the infusion of technology and innovation in the sector, and regional stroke, National Health and Nutrition imperatives are all securely established.”
Last October The Council of Ministers: Agriculture pledged support for the OECS Food and Agriculture Systems Transformation (FAST) strategy which was designed to establish competitive and sustainable food and agriculture production, processing and distribution practices to combat the rise in food prices and to ensure that citizens can affordable and healthy foods.
According to the FAO (2021), the Caribbean imports between 60% and 80% of its basic food requirements. In response, several strategies were introduced, including Caricom Agri-Food Systems Strategy in the Member States, which is expected to reduce food import bills by 25% by the year 2025.
Minister Royer highlighted an integral component of any regional strategy to modernise and create a more resilience sector in the face of climate change which he said is the availability of an Agricultural Insurance Scheme. “But building resilience is not only about building robust infrastructure and implementing smart farming systems. It’s also about how quickly recover from the impacts of these climatic events. Therefore, as a block must bring to the discussion the matter of agricultural insurance schemes that can provide that level of safety net for persons investing in agriculture as we have done in Dominica.”
Minister Royer encouraged OECS governments to strengthen collaboration in order to achieve the desired outcomes for the agriculture sector.
“We encourage all of our respective OECS governments to recognise the need for both coordination and technical cooperation on agriculture to improve the overall capacity of the sector to deliver a safe and secure supply of food to our populations. We believe that through shared knowledge, best practices, research and development, innovation, and the facilitation of agricultural trade, finance, and investment we can achieve much as a grouping.”
Meanwhile, Senator the Honorable Adrian Thomas, Minister with Responsibility for Agriculture and Lands, Fisheries and Cooperatives, has committed to endorsing and implementing this strategy as his government seeks to continue to roll out its transformative agenda.
“The government has embarked on major projects for increasing the sustainability and resiliency of agriculture. The Food Security enhanced enhancement project will focus on increasing crops, fisheries and livestock production, agro-processing storage for agricultural commodities and building technical capacity. The recently launched agricultural development assistant program ADAPT is designed to assist farmers and fisherfolk. horticulturists, apiculture, and plant propagators to meet the full potential in the cultivation, management and availability of parity, agricultural commodities and marine resources. The yields are specifically targeted through the youth in agriculture. program for farmers and potential farmers less than 35 years of age.”
The 7th Meeting of the OECS Council of Ministers of Agriculture follows the endorsement of 3 core areas under the FAST Strategy, based on recommendations by senior officials of agriculture from a FAST Prioritisation Workshop chaired by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries, Blue and Green Economy, Reginald Severin which was convened in June. The core areas will be used to develop the OECS Commission work programme on agriculture for the next 3 years, namely private sector development: production processing and distribution; transport, logistics and trade; and climate resilient agriculture. At present, the Agriculture Minister is attending the 43rd Conference of the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) in Rome from 1–7 July 2023.