(PRESS RELEASE) – Thirteen Caribbean Ministers of Agriculture participated in a videoconference with the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), in which they discussed strategies to bolster agricultural activity and to safeguard the food supply amidst the ongoing health crisis, in a region that relies heavily on food imports and on tourism.
Saboto Caesar, Minister of Agriculture of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, convened the meeting and will also lead the efforts of the Caribbean Community’s (CARICOM) agrifood sector to tackle the pandemic.
Actions that IICA will undertake with the Caribbean countries to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic will include facilitating direct dialogue with Ministers of Agriculture of all regions of the Americas to share useful information for decision making related to food security, and providing online training in good agricultural and health practices for rural workers.
The Ministers of Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Surinam and Trinidad and Tobago participated in the videoconference.
“The most important role we can play is to inspire and motivate others”, said Michael Pintard, Minister of Marine Resources and Agriculture of The Bahamas. “Covid-19 is one of those defining tragedies from which we will recover. If we unite as a region and as nations, we will be able to inspire our people”.
Manuel Otero, IICA’s Director General pledged that, “We will work with the Caribbean countries to devise ambitious proposals to generate a new extension services strategy based on the use of online and mobile telephone systems, as well as to drive horizontal cooperation, enabling the ministers to establish contact with key countries to build bridges and to take advantage of existing complementarities”.
One of the greatest challenges facing the Caribbean is to ensure that food imports are not disrupted at this time when the global food trade is under severe pressure. Barbados, for example, imports 80% of the food that it consumes. On the other hand, Jamaica and Guyana are experiencing grave difficulties in storing excess food production after the closure of borders and the collapse of tourism, which is a vital industry for the regional economy that is normally the main outlet for most of the food that is produced locally.
Added to this is the drought now facing the region which makes it critical for the agriculture sector to increase resilience to climate variability and to incorporate technology.
IICA’s Director General also proposed to the Caribbean ministers of Agriculture that international financial agencies should be included in future online meetings, as part of a strategy to integrate efforts to guarantee food supply during the current pandemic and in its aftermath.