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Region not putting enough into agri research – Dr. Ramsammy

(L-R) CARDI’s Maurice Wilson, Agri. Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy and CTA’s Thierry Doudet.

Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy has lamented the Caribbean’s almost non-existent investment in agriculture research saying it is a critical pillar in the thrust to meet key developmental goals.

His call came at the opening of a two-day media workshop on Friday which marked the start of activities for the Caribbean Week of Agriculture in Georgetown.

Dr. Ramsammy said there was a “dire need” for indigenous research which declined following the departure of the Imperial College of Tropical Agriculture (ICTA) when the states became independent.

“I’m not shy at saying that we have a poor agriculture research capacity in this region and we need to change that paradigm,” he told the journalists and assembled officials.

The minister added there were institutions within the region to coordinate such research nd he listed several including the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), the Universities of the West Indies and Guyana and the Guyana School of Agriculture. He also highlighted the expertise available through partnership with Cuba.

“We have done a poor job, and that was one of the key binding constraints recognised within the Jagdeo Initiative, we have done little or nothing. We don’t even have an agriculture research agenda for this region. I say these things not in criticism, I say these things not in judgement of anyone, I say these things because they are imperative for our development,” Dr. Ramsammy said.

But the institutions were spared the brunt of the criticism for this shortcoming. That was reserved for the regional governments.

“We don’t even invest in agriculture research. Together our commitment to agriculture research represent less than 0.1 percent of our GDP, we share that shame with the whole Latin America region. Cuba at 0.7 percent, Brazil at about 0.5 percent of their GDP, Argentina, Chile they’ve made some efforts but in the Caribbean less than 0.1 percent goes to research and we need to address those issues.

The Guyanese minister noted that the region was aspiring to be hunger-free by 2025 and to attain a human development index listing which placed its people at a high middle income level but said it would fail unless agriculture assumed a greater role in the development plans with proper research.

“There are more Caribbean people working on research in agriculture in Africa than are working in the Caribbean. It’s not their fault, we need to put agriculture research at the very centre of our development programme and I urge that we do so now,” Dr. Ramsammy said.

According to him, the potential impact from research was enormous.

He urged that a careful but aggressive agenda be pursued to improve and introduce new crops, generate better soil management practices, and to unlock the potential of genetic modification technologies.

“These research objectives must become part of the research and applied sciences agenda that must be supported by public funding to refine existing crops and provide enhanced yields giving us more production per acre of land with the same amount or less water,” the minister stated.

The region has been looking to step up agriculture production to tackle its burgeoning food import bill which is often said to be more than US$2B annually.

Dr. Ramsammy also criticised the failure to implement what he said was an “appropriate biotechnology policy.”

“I already served as Minister of Health for almost 12 years, during that time we were building a biotechnology policy in this region, y’all don’t make me finish as Minister of Agriculture before we have a biotechnology policy.”

He urged that they stop “dithering” on the policy since it was necessary to maintain the safety of the environment, the well-being of families, ecological and economic sustainability of farming systems, health and nutrition security, and external trade and biosecurity of the region.

“We need to get it right and we need to get it now.   

Dr. Ramsammy also addressed the declining agriculture labour force saying that too needed immediate attention.

“Twenty years from now the labour problem will not disappear, I don’t know what it will be but I know the trajectory it will take and the trajectory is that the labour problem in agriculture in the region will get worse. Therefore mechanisation   is not just critical, it is an imperative.”

However, he added that most of the mechanisation introduced in the region has been inappropriate since the effects of climate change were not taken into consideration.

“Unless we have a research agenda, unless we have the right place where agriculture is located within our development agenda, unless we recognise agriculture is one of the most important pillars on which we develop our nations we are not going to succeed,” Dr. Ramsammy concluded.

The media workshop was organised by the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation.