Caribbean Region told current crisis is price for neglect of agricultural sector

BARBADOS – The head of a regional development agency has charged that Caribbean islands are now paying the price for the “relative neglect” of the agricultural sector in the current food crisis.

President of the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), Dr. Compton Bourne, recently also told a joint CDB and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) seminar themed: ‘The Food Price Shock and the Caribbean: Analysis and Response’ that this particular episode was “yet another reminder of the food vulnerability of the region.”

Dr. Bourne told his regional and international colleagues, that over the past decade countries across the region had accumulated food deficits, many of them “huge”, with Guyana being the only country which approached some level of sustainability in some commodity items.

The CDB Head warned that even if this particular episode had not occurred, most Caribbean islands would still have encountered problems due to poor performance particularly in the food production system. In this regard Dr. Bourne referenced the agricultural system and the entire food supply chain.

According to Dr. Bourne, the problems occurred as a result of several factors, including the transfer of farming lands into residential and other areas, diminished technical support for the sector and an overall decline in the provision of financial support to agriculture.

“We are in effect paying the price for a period of relative neglect of what is still an important sector in our economies,” he said, noting that there was need for a more holistic approach with regard to sectoral improvements. He also pointed to the need for “significant strengthening” of marketing and distribution systems in light of the absence of proper facilities at ports of entry and adequate shipping facilities for agricultural produce.

Meanwhile, Vice President (Operations) CDB, Desmond Brunton, assured those present that the Bank had put systems in place to assist countries including a special fund which had been established. The CDB Vice President also stressed that data and information were crucial to the process.

“Good information is critical to sound decision making and we hope that this event would contribute to that,” he said.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Senator Haynesley Benn, in thanking the two agencies for staging the seminar at this critical juncture, said: “As we deliberate here today and in other fora on this subject, our response should not only be centred on overcoming the current crisis in the short-term, but also on implementing appropriate measures to ensure that food is available at reasonable prices, and that it is accessible and nutritious on a sustainable basis.”

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