San Jose, 5 October 2021 (IICA). The opening event of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) 2021 made a resounding call to transform agri-food systems so as to ensure economic, social and environmental sustainability and facilitate post-pandemic recovery.
CWA is the subregion’s most important forum for dialogue, convened with the aim to reach consensus on the future of agriculture and rural life. Participants at the event include key stakeholders in the Caribbean from both the public and private sectors.
Themed “Transforming our food systems”, this is the sixteenth edition of the event—inaugurated in Trinidad and Tobago in 1999—and is the first time it is held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Caribbean Week of Agriculture is organized by the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in collaboration with the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) and FAO. The week-long event concludes on 8 October and includes over 30 activities, 100 speakers and a virtual presentation covering topics such as primary production, manufacturing, agritourism, agricultural technology, agricultural education and trade.
“If we are willing, we can transform our agriculture, making it better, more diverse and capable of guaranteeing access to healthy, nutritious foods for everyone, leaving no one behind”, affirmed Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana.
The head of state explained that Guyana has been working to increase production and strengthen the sector’s institutions to build a more resilient agriculture with access to technological innovation.
He continued: “We must ask ourselves why we need to transform the food systems and how we can achieve it. Our region is blessed with arable land, abundant sources of fresh water and qualified agricultural workers. However, we import over USD 5 billion in food annually. We have the resources to produce more food than what we consume and, in the process, generate income for the population”.
Irfaan Ali believes that the Caribbean has a critical need to increase food security given that “it is particularly vulnerable to extreme climate events like floods, droughts and hurricanes as a result of climate change. We must respond to the challenges and seize opportunities to build resilience”.
Errington Thompson, President of Agriculture Alliance of the Caribbean (AACARI), underscored the role played by IICA in supporting agriculture in the Caribbean given the challenging situation stemming from the pandemic in early 2020.
Errington made an emphatic call to action regarding the need to strengthen the sustainability of food production, processing and trade: “The circumstances we are in do not allow us to delay or procrastinate. We are facing the impact of COVID-19 and climate change, as well as weakened economies and food shortages. We must act fast and reach consensus to ensure that we meet the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially eradiating hunger”.
Ignatius Jean, Chairman of the Board of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI), explained that recent natural disasters, including the floods in Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago, the earthquake in Haiti and the eruption of La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, have exacerbated the devastating effects of the pandemic.
“Today, millions of people don’t have access to a healthy diet”, informed Jean, who further emphasized the urgent need to involve young people in agriculture as an indispensable condition to be able to build a food production that is resilient to natural disasters.
Joseph Cox, Assistant Secretary-General for Trade and Economic Integration at CARICOM, referred to the importance that the Caribbean fulfill its objective to reduce food imports by 25% by 2025.
“Over the next few years, we must strengthen our food security by making strategic decisions that guarantee a resilient future”, he stated. He also noted the importance of reorganizing the agricultural business model in the Caribbean to drive improvements in productivity, incorporate innovation and build more resilient structures to the volatility of international prices.
Lloyd Day, Deputy Director General of IICA, spoke of the importance, in terms of diversity, of the Americas and the Caribbean to global agri-food systems.
“On the one hand, the region contributes to global food and nutrition security as the top exporter, the largest ecosystem services provider and the greatest source of biodiversity. On the other hand, there are countries, particularly in the Caribbean, that are heavily dependent on food imports, making them vulnerable to disruptions in the supply chain”.
Day also pointed out the significance of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture being held just days after the UN Food Systems Summit, for which the entire American continent agreed on a document containing 16 messages that expressed the region’s joint vision for the transformation of agri-food systems.
Day summarized the actions undertaken by IICA since early 2020 to support the nations of the Caribbean in responding to the pandemic, including the creation of a special fund to ensure food and nutrition security. The Institute also participated in campaigns to facilitate access to seeds, irrigation equipment and inputs in Antigua and Barbuda, Haiti, Grenada, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Guyana and Belize.
IICA also made significant efforts to rebuild agricultural production in the wake of natural disasters, including the eruption of La Soufrière volcano in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, the floods in Guyana and Suriname and the earthquake in Haiti.
In turn, Julio Berdegué, FAO Assistant Director-General and Regional Representative for Latin America and the Caribbean, urged the different stakeholders to work together to face threats like the recent outbreak of swine fever, which puts at risk an important economic activity in the region, and warned that the global mitigation of climate change is “a matter of life or death” for the Caribbean islands.