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Caricom food import bill crosses US$2b yearly

Wednesday, August 14, 2013
UNCCD secretariat representative Dr Richard Cox chats with Minister of State in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Ramona Ramdial at the opening ceremony of the subregion capacity building workshop at Capital Plaza Hotel, Port-of-Spain, yesterday. PHOTO: NICOLE DRAYTON

More than US$2 billion is spent on the annual food import bill by Caricom countries, which have a combined population of only six million people. Dr Richard Cox, capacity building officer of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, shared the statistic yesterday. “It is worth noting that Caricom itself produced the figures to show that our import food bill runs over US$2 billion every year,” he said. His comments were part of a capacity-building workshop on the NAP/IFS Alignment Process in the Caricom subregion. 



“A place that has such great soil is importing $2 billion and more of food every year. What sort of food security are you talking about when you have such an import bill and the English-speaking Caribbean is about six million people?” Cox said this was significant and stakeholders must get involved in proper sustainable land management and finding solutions.


“If we appreciate that land degradation is really about achieving sustainable development and about the livelihood and the very future existence of some of the most economically vulnerable people on this planet, then we agree that increased land degradation will exacerbate poverty, create greater threat to food security resulting in greater social and economic dislocation,” he said.


The situation is “particularly acute” in Small island Developing States (SIDS). UNDP resident representative Richard Blewitt said like most SIDS, Caribbean countries faced challenges originating from their small size and geographical location, small economies, limited infrastructure, and high vulnerability to natural disasters such as hurricanes. 


The workshop, which concludes on August 15, is being held at the Capital Plaza Hotel, Port-of-Spain, by the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources, in collaboration with the UN. Minister in the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources Ramona Ramdial said since 2010 to the present there had been a two per cent decrease in T&T’s estimated $4 billion annual food import bill.


She attributed the decrease to a series of government projects, called the Caroni Green Farm Initiative, through which farming was done on a large scale to supply supermarkets and people with domestically produced food. She said the project was very successful to date. Ramdial said both her ministry and the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development stand to gain valuable information from the workshop regarding land resources management.


The Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development recently revised its policy on hillside development in regards to flooding. As an example of the importance of proper land resources management she cited the Diego Martin area, where she said flooding caused landslides and landslips, which in turn were the result of agricultural or housing hillside development. 


Another example of the importance of land use was the Pt Fortin to San Fernando Highway project, she said, adding that the lack of proper transportation routes in south Trinidad precipitated the need for the highway extension project.


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