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Caricom rapped for doing little to develop agriculture

Caribbean farmers Monday knuckled the 15-nation Caribbean Community (Caricom) for doing little to get the regional agricultural industry off the ground, even as a Pacific – Caribbean Agro-Food forum seeks to build on small achievements so far.

Addressing the opening session of the forum, President of the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN), Senator Norman Grant said Caricom failed to address the nine binding constraints to regional agriculture that would have helped to region become food secure by the end of 2015.

“We don’t need to reinvent the wheels. The mater of the Jagdeo Initiatives and in my view we are not where we should have been in 2015 and my opinion is that those initiatives have not been critically addressed as relates to the objectives that were embedded in the Jagdeo Initiative (named after then President Bharrat Jagdeo),” said Grant who is also President of the Jamaica Agricultural Society.

Grant used the opportunity to also remark that whatever the outcome of the forum being held in Barbados, no names of individuals should be attached “but we should focus on what we are doing it is an initiative by the people, it is an initiative by the farmers in both regions and that there is certainly commitment and collaboration to ensure that it works.” Guyana is responsible for agriculture in Caricom’s quasi-cabinet.

Major challenges facing the development of agriculture in the Caribbean are financing, praedial larceny, high food imports, capacity building for farmers’ organisations, lack of marketing frameworks, nutrition, climate change and transportation.

He expressed optimism that that the five-day Pacific Agri-Food Forum would be a “game changer” for regional agriculture

Co-sponsored by The Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Rural Agriculture and Development (CTA) and the Barbados government, the forum aims to find ways of assisting small and medium-scale farmers-including women and youths-in building value-chains from farms and agro-processing to the table with the aim of creating wealth.

Chief Executive Officer of the Barbados Agricultural Society (JAS), James Paul lamented that there was a huge disconnect between ordinary people and the land at a time when the population was shifting to towns and big neo-liberal companies were getting huge chunks of the market.

“Neither can we sit idly by and allow Caricom, as an institution, become a means by which big companies in the Caribbean carve a means for economic opportunities for themselves at the expense  of farmers,” he said

pacific agrifoodThe BAS boss identified the need to influence policy changes that will counter the impact of neo-liberal economic changes and mitigate the impact of climate change. Grant expressed concern that the United Nations (UN) appeared to be a “club of the wealthy” while the “interest of small island developing states are ignored.”

Director the CTA, Michael Hailu expects the Pacific Agri-Food Forum to focus on scaling up small achievements by people by taking advantage of the “people context” of cooperation between the European Union and the 77- nation African Caribbean Pacific Forum (ACP) rather than merely regurgitating the problems.

“There are small things that are working that are succeeding- why don’t you try to scale them up,” he said.

While the EU has been providing huge funding for agriculture development, Hailu admitted that small scale producers, farmers and enterprises could not easily tap into such monies unless the small-scale actors grow into huge businesses

Permanent Secretary of Barbados’ Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Elsworth Reid said Europe’s removal of preferential market access has been a “wake-up call” for the Caribbean to cease depending on handouts.

“No developing country can improve unless there is a vibrant agricultural sector,” he remarked.

‎In addition to the EU’s removal of preferential market access for rice, bananas and sugar, Reid said farmers across the Caribbean were faced with other challenges such as praedial larceny, climate change and crops and livestock diseases.

He said in Barbados, efforts were being made to tighten laws against the stealing from farms and increasing the involvement of youths in agriculture through the use of modern technologies.