Refocus on Agriculture
ST GEORGE’S, Grenada – Prime Minister Tillman Thomas says agriculture must play a more prominent role in transforming the economic and social landscape of the Caribbean and the time had come for the region to move beyond meetings and discussions.
“We must now take decisive action to change the face of agriculture and agribusiness on the ground, in our various territories,” Thomas said, as he addressed the formal opening of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) on Thursday night.
He said he was inspired by the theme of the week-long event, Sustainable Agriculture Development to Achieve Food and Nutrition Security, that also included a meeting of regional agriculture ministers, policymakers and media experts.
“It helps us to refocus our attention and priority on a sector that has traditionally provided food, facilitated education, social mobility and overall wealth to our families. This sector, in my view, still holds the key to employment, growth in foreign exchange earnings and expansion of our Gross Domestic Product,” he said.
The CWA is being organised by the Netherlands-based Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation in collaboration with the Trinidad-based Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute and the Association of Caribbean Media Workers.
Thomas said that after decades of neglect, interest in agricultural development was back on the agenda of many international development agencies.
He said the neglect had been driven primarily by external policy orientations and a shift in focus to service industries such as telecommunications, finance and banking, and tourism among others.
“As the forces of globalisation and trade liberalisation intensified, with the coming into force of the World Trade Organisation, our agricultural markets were also liberalised. Our agricultural products now had to compete with similar products from the developed world, especially on the shelves of our local supermarkets.”
Thomas said in less than two decades, the preferential regime, which the Caribbean enjoyed in Europe for the marketing of bananas, unravelled, while sugar buckled under the pressure of deregulation and European alternatives.
“One of the main sources of income for hundreds of farmers and a means of employment for thousands of agricultural workers across the region, disappeared.
“Simultaneously, the importation of what is regarded as ‘cheap food’ into the region escalated, while the prices of agricultural inputs increased,” Thomas told the ceremony that was attended by Caribbean Community ministers of agriculture. (CMC)