The Caribbean Regional Climate Centre has reported “record breaking temperatures between May and August of this year and this situation is expected to continue through to October”.
This situation has resulted in noticeable shortages of key commodities including leafy greens, cucumbers, tomatoes on our supermarket shelves and other retail outlets.
We are mindful of the reports from some of our Member States that the intense heat over the past weeks is having a negative impact on vegetable production just ahead of the Christmas period. Also, the forage for livestock production in places like Antigua and Barbuda is impacted by low rain rainfall.
In addition, the poultry industry in CARICOM and in particular Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have experienced loses because of the high temperatures.
The imperative therefore is for us to respond and to advance the implementation of the OECS Food and Agriculture Systems Transformation (FAST) Strategy based on the very productive discussions we have had over the past three months.
This meeting is timely and avails us the opportunity to concretely move past the conceptual phase of the FAST Strategy to a rapid implementation phase. Ministers and colleagues, this is not about more plans on the shelf; it is a time for tangible action; it is the penultimate hour of results. Our success or failure will simply be measured, assessed, and made visible by the impact of these initiatives, by the availability of produce both locally and regionally on our kitchen tables.
Colleagues let us continue to advance the core intent in the FAST Strategy for us to work collectively on the issues where there will be greater impact and if I may be blunt this may be our only recourse.
There is an urgent need to be ambitious, agile but there is no need to reinvent the wheel, mindful of the historic example of the Windward Island Banana Exporting efforts, from which we gain our inspiration. Ministers would have received the compendium of articles written by Mr. Frankie Leonce who was integral to the construction of the banana industry in the Windward Islands.
I crave your indulgence to provide a summary of the conceptual and organizational lessons that we need to learn from that experience if we are to succeed in our current and future endeavours.
The lessons for agricultural development from Leonce’s analysis can be summarized as follows:
- Diversification: Diversified estates are better positioned to adapt to changing market needs. His work provides the example of Patience estate of Grace Augustin, which had a variety of tree crops, demonstrating the need to diversify crops to safeguard against market fluctuations and environmental challenges.
- Preservation of Mid-Sized Estates: Mid-sized estates have the potential to be self-supporting units of agricultural production, and they play a critical role in agricultural development. The series highlights the potential for mid-sized estates to be equipped with necessary machinery and personnel resources, and how they can also serve as a centre for initiating and demonstrating new agricultural developments. Therefore measures should be put in place to limit further partitioning of productive mid-sized agricultural estates – this punctuates the importance of effective land use planning.
- Cooperation: Cooperation between mid-sized estates, smaller farms, and government bodies is essential. There is potential for mid-sized estates to work cooperatively with neighbouring small farms to bolster food supply, for example, and the role of the government in providing agricultural engineering support is essential.
- Infrastructure: Adequate infrastructure, such as drainage systems, is crucial for the productivity and sustainability of agricultural lands. The need for ongoing maintenance of the infrastructure and the role of the government in providing support for major works is emphasized.
- Credit Accessibility: Access to credit is essential for the development and sustainability of small and mid-sized farms. The challenges faced by farmers in accessing credit and the need for adequate concessionary funding for on-lending to farmers is highlighted.
- Conservation: The conservation of productive agricultural lands is a top priority. Leonce recommends the use of a land use authority to protect the integrity of lands with high production potential. I am not sure whether any of our Member States have such an institution and if so, how strong is its mandate, but this needs to be considered.
- Support for Small Farmers: Special attention needs to be given to supporting small farmers in addressing challenges associated with small farm size, such as productivity conservation, infrastructure maintenance, and access to credit. Again, the need for proactive government support and a structured approach to land tenure is highlighted.
- Strategic Planning: Strategic planning is essential for the long-term sustainability of the agriculture sector. It may be necessary identify and anchor production around some core crops around which agricultural diversification (and food security) should be planned. Relatedly, plans should be made proactively to address threats such as disease and disaster in developing a strategy for agricultural development.
In conclusion, Leonce highlights the importance of diversification, preservation of mid-sized estates, cooperation, infrastructure, credit accessibility, conservation, support for small farmers, and strategic planning for the sustainable development of the agriculture sector.
There are fantastic examples of projects and initiatives which are and have been implemented by both government and partner agencies in our Member States. Some of the lessons extracted earlier have been addressed but what is essential is that the FAST must embrace an eco-systemic approach to agricultural development – every component of the system must be aligned to and articulate seamlessly with each other and the flow from field to dining table must be flawless.
Our most recent meeting, which was convened in St. Vincent and the Grenadines facilitated the identification of commonalities for continued advancement of collaborative regional efforts needed to combat food insecurity. Most importantly, there was a clear commitment to the development of a programme of activities to foster this collective approach.
Therefore, to advance the implementation of the FAST Strategy the Caribbean Week of Agriculture proffers the not so common opportunity to directly engage potential international partners, an activity which will occur within the confines of this meeting today.
The Commission stands ready to work with Member States and International Partners to identify areas of mutual interest and cooperation. The Commission also commits to supporting the continued advancement and accelerated implementation of the OECS FAST Strategy. Honourable Ministers and colleagues, I thank you for your indulgence.