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COTED wants Governments to place agriculture on front burner

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Georgetown, GINA, October 11, 2013 - The Government of Guyana and the Agriculture Ministry have come in for high praise by countries of the region for hosting a well organised Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) at the Guyana International Conference Centre (GICC), Liliendaal. The Week culminated with a Ministerial Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED).

Speaking at a press conference this evening, Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Leslie Ramsammy said that this CWA brought together the Region’s key stakeholders in a way that they have never been brought together before.

He noted that the event was well-attended not only by officials at the ministerial level, but by key bodies such as Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), University of the West Indies (UWI) Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Caribbean AgriBusiness Association (CABA), Caribbean Farmers’ Network (CaFAN), the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Caribbean Agricultural Health and Food Safety Agency (CAHFSA) and Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO).

For countries whose ministers could not have attended, other senior functionaries were present.

Minister Ramsammy said that there was a strong commitment by all to use the Jagdeo Initiative to transform agriculture with the aim of ensuring that the Caribbean becomes the first region in the world to end poverty and hunger by 2025.

The Jagdeo Initiative on Agriculture, conceptualised by the former President of Guyana Bharrat Jagdeo is a strategy formulated to develop agriculture in the Region. It identifies and defines nine key, critical and binding constraints to the development of the agriculture sector in the Caribbean region and also practical interventions at both the regional and national levels to alleviate these constraints.

Cassava and sweet potato were identified as key agriculture produce that can contribute to the generation of wealth and the production of health food choices for the Region’s people. Additionally, it was agreed that much more focus must be placed on processing and value-added rather than just exporting raw products.

The Agriculture Ministry will be teaming up with the FAO to host the first cassava festival on World Food Day on October 16. This event will see the commercialising of cassava recipes. Additionally, the FAO will be publishing a recipe book of the different meals that can be prepared from cassava.

Meanwhile, Grenada’s Minister of Agriculture, Lands, Forestry, Fisheries and Environment, Roland Bhola said that with the economic pressure facing the Region, most countries are looking at agriculture to transform their economies.

He said that, “we have long overdue to deliver on food security to our people…we have the capacity and the availability of all the basics to achieve that objective.”

He said this meeting put a lot of the outstanding issues into perspective and has clearly outlined the next steps to be taken on the way forward.

Minister for Agriculture and Forestry of Dominica, Matthew Walter said that the objective of food security and poverty reduction will not be achieved if countries of the Region work in isolation of each other.

He said that if agriculture is well planned and placed on the front burner by all Governments, then issues such as rural poverty, unemployment, hunger and other social problems will be comprehensively addressed.

He pointed out however, that countries are hindered by many constraints particularly in terms of the availability of sufficient financial resources. This, he said, is an issue that must be addressed at all cost.

With regards to the sanitary and phyto-sanitary condition of foods produced in the Region, a CAHFSA body has been put in place to certify these standards, which have to be adhered to in the process of international exportation of food.

The Dominican Agriculture Minister also spoke of the importance of attracting more youths in the sector and pointed to the need for putting in place the requisite programmes to keep young people interested in this field.

Officer-in-Charge of Trade and Economic Integration in CARICOM, Desiree Field-Ridley emphasised that all stakeholders must work together to address the issue of the Region’s high food importation bill.  She added that there must be synergies in countries’ work programmes so as to develop a strategy to plan, improve and increase production and trade.

This, the 12th CWA, was held under the theme “Linking the Caribbean for Regional Food and Nutrition Security and Rural Development”. The next CWA is tentatively scheduled to be held in neighbouring Suriname.

CWA was conceptualised by IICA as a facility to place agriculture and rural life on the front burner of regional integration activities and in doing so enable key decision-makers in the public and private sectors to better acknowledge the importance of agriculture and rural life to the economic, social and environmental stability of the region.

It also provides a forum for major stakeholders in agriculture and related sectors to have an opportunity to dialogue and forge a common vision for the repositioning of agriculture and the enhancement of rural life.