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T&T, Guyana food plan gets regional support
St John’s—Trinidad and Tobago’s food security facility with Guyana is finding broader regional support, but only if a realistic approach to getting produce generated by the initiative to market is adopted.
Head of Resource Mobilisation at the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Cardi), Maurice Wilson said at a meeting here the initiative announced in the 2013 fiscal package was “exactly what we want.” He, however, said unless more substantial investments were made in such facilities the region would have trouble meeting its food security targets.
Wilson said the private sector had an important role to play in facilitating and financing such arrangements. Caribbean Community (Caricom) programme manager for Agriculture and Industry, Sergio Garcia, added that for such intra-regional projects consideration should be given to crop selection, “ecological” factors and the troublesome question of the cost and efficiency of transporting produce between countries.
The officials remarked on the issue during a regional “media sensitisation” workshop in Antigua ahead of this week’s observance of Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA). A project led by the Co-operative Citrus Growers Association involves the production of up to 5,000 acres of land made available to the CGA by the Guyana government under preferential arrangements.
The CGA pays an annual rental of US$1 per acre for the land but has been responsible for land development and technical expertise associated with production. Only 300 acres of land is now being cultivated.
The joint approach to shortfalls in food production in Caricom states was also the focus of attention of Antigua and Barbuda’s minister of Agriculture, Hilson Baptiste, who was critical of his regional counterparts for not acting on many years of research and planning on such issues.
He said when he came to office he met “stacks” of policy and research papers and then was approached to participate in even more bureaucratic planning exercises which he described as being unnecessary. “I am an action minister,” he said.
He said Caricom agriculture ministers had too often failed to meet regional food production targets and to implement a longstanding list of policies and plans.
“Ministers do not do their work,” Baptiste said. He said there was also a failure to convert “talk and talk and talk” into concerted action to meet the food production objectives of the Caribbean. He in part blamed frequent changes in politicians holding ministerial portfolios across the region saying “ministers change too fast” and despite the continued presence of “technicians” work on important projects often ends prematurely.
Garcia, meanwhile, said the Caricom Secretariat had, in response to those kinds of complaints, developed a regional “action plan” on agriculture to be presented to ministers during Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) observances here next week. Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj is due to address a ministerial meeting on T&T’s most recent thinking on the issue.