A regional network for agriculture extension services has been launched at the Caribbean Week of Agriculture with the aim of boosting agricultural productivity.
The Caribbean Agricultural Extension Providers Network (CAEPNet) is a collaboration between the University of the West Indies and Extension Service Providers in CARICOM.
“The network is a new association of extension leaders which intends to support the work of agriculture extension at a time when the Caribbean region’s food import bill is increasing at an alarming rate.
The kind of rate we’re talking about is US$4.2B and we can’t really afford to be producing no food and importing so much food that we like to eat and of course there are many things that we have to do,” said UWI’s Dr. David Dolly.
At a meeting of regional heads of extension services in February a number of problems were identified within their area he added. These included clear definitions of the roles of extension officers, improving staff morale, increased budget support, policies to better empower the services and greater farmer participation.
Minister of Agriculture Dr. Leslie Ramsammy in his contribution said it was extension services that were responsible for the growth of Guyana’s rice industry which was initially intended to be a way to feed the sugarcane workers more than a century ago. Today, he added, Guyana consumes less than 10 percent of the rice it produces.
“Part of the success story is that from a dream in 1920 that we could reach 50,000 tonnes, in 2013 we will exceed 500,000 tonnes of rice. We can meet the rice demand of the whole CARICOM,” he declared.
The minister said the success was as a result of improved technology and farming techniques in addition to the establishment of an extension service for rice and a research centre.
“Research finds things that must reach the farmers and that’s the role of the extension workers. Better use of fertilisers and pesticides, the professionals can come up with the guidelines but it is the extension workers that must be with the farmers in their fields.
“There is a critical role that extension workers play and it is high time that we acknowledge the work that extension workers have done to improve agriculture. It is shocking that it has taken us so long to organise a network … but it is better to be late than never,” Dr. Ramsammy stated.
The minister committed to introducing the network to his colleagues when the CARICOM ministerial Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) meets on Friday and that they would work to ensure it became an integral part of agriculture development in the region.