Bridgetown, Barbados (TDN) — The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) is transforming the way it works in the Caribbean to ensure a greater and more effective contribution to national and regional development.
This was the main message delivered by the Organization’s Director General, Dr. Jose Graziano da Silva, on a recent twelve day mission which saw him meet with Government, civil society, the private sector and partner agencies in several countries of the region.
Discussions focused on the future of the Caribbean food and agriculture sector, the challenges facing it, and how FAO can reengineer its assistance to better equip the region to establish more efficient and sustainable food systems.
Dr. Graziano spoke about reforms that are underway at FAO, which are making it more responsive and effective, as well as its new strategic objectives and renewed focus on the eradication of hunger around the world.
Dr. Graziano began the mission by attending the Opening Ceremony of the CARICOM Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago where he met with President of Guyana and Lead Head of Government for Agriculture, Mr. Donald Ramotar, Prime Ministers of the Bahamas, Grenada and St. Kitts, Mr. Perry Christie, Dr. Keith Mitchell and Dr. Denzil Douglas respectively, as well as the Foreign Ministers of Dominica and Suriname.
He also held discussions with head of the Caribbean Development Bank, Dr. Warren Smith, about how the two agencies can better cooperate to serve the region.
While in Trinidad he also met with the Minister of Agriculture and Planning and paid a courtesy call to the new Faculty of Food and Agriculture at the St. Augustine Campus of the University of the West Indies, which is seeking to grow as a centre of research and innovation in the sector.
The delegation travelled on to the Eastern Caribbean, stopping first in Saint Lucia where Dr. Graziano met with agriculture officials to discuss that country’s food insecurity caused by the decline of income from bananas – the main livelihood of thousands of small, rural farmers – and compounded by the global economic crisis.
FAO has already offered its assistance in the management of Black Sigatoka Disease which has severely impacted bananas, as well as in the exploration of alternative crops and the development of value chains in an effort to diversify the base of rural livelihoods.
In Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr Graziano lauded the Government’s efforts to reduce hunger, which saw the country named last month as one of 38 in the world to have achieved the United Nation’s Millennium Development Goal 1, the halving of the number of people suffering from hunger and undernourishment, well ahead of the 2015 deadline. While in the country, Dr Graziano reiterated plans to create closer ties with the Eastern Caribbean Member States of FAO, which have been hit by the decline of the banana industry and face ongoing vulnerability to natural disasters.
In Antigua and Barbuda, the delegation visited community projects which form part of the FAO-led Zero Hunger Challenge pilot initiative in the Caribbean. The project is currently focusing on strengthening the National School Meals Programme and developing backyard gardens and small farmer enterprises in the most vulnerable communities.
Other initiatives will target expansion and diversification of agriculture, improved nutrition, pro-poor employment, income opportunities and improved governance. FAO is in the process of expanding its Zero Hunger work across the region.
The mission came to an end with a visit to Jamaica where Dr. Graziano met with the Prime Minister, the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of the Environment, and engaged with several partners and key stakeholders in the food and agriculture sector.
They heard first hand from farmers about the severe challenges facing the industry including the devastating impact of plant diseases on citrus and coffee crops, as well as praedial larceny which is robbing farmers of their livelihoods. FAO, which currently has several projects in the country, promised its continued support to combat these challenges.
Dr. Graziano was accompanied throughout the region by his Special Adviser, Carlos Hartog, and Subregional Coordinator for the Caribbean, Dr. J.R. Deep Ford. Dr. Ford described the visit as a success and said it signaled a new closeness in the region’s dealings with the Organization.
“The Director General has left the region with a good understanding of the challenges and opportunities in the Caribbean region. He has pledged his commitment to make FAO a critical player in the revitalization and transformation process underway in the food and agriculture sector.