The Assistant Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Albert Ramdin, called for reforms in agriculture in the Caribbean including increased public-private partnerships and renewed focus on research and development during a conference this week in Barbados on food security and the economic implications of reliance on food imports.
Among the specific areas of concern, the OAS Assistant Secretary General cited the rising food import bill of the Caribbean region which now totals over US $4 billion, and its comparatively low agricultural output. Assistant Secretary General Ramdin said food security has become one of the most actionable items of this era, raised at almost every major meeting, assembly or conference, including Summits of the Americas and OAS General Assemblies, yet noted that execution of many commitments is often delayed. “Five years ago we identified key challenges: the lack of entrepreneurship and investment, ageing farmers, severe weather events and antiquated practices, but I am not sure we’ve acted enough to correct it. Five years later many of us are in the same position,” said Ramdin.
Commending the government of Barbados for undertaking such a focused discussion, the high ranking OAS official described the situation in the Caribbean as worrisome: “the reality is that we simply do not have direct control over a significant percentage of our food supply, and we are increasingly vulnerable to every change or disruption in external production,” added Ramdin.
Pointing to a direct link between food security, development, poverty, social and political stability, Ambassador Ramdin also urged governments to focus more strategic efforts and resources to increase growth in the sector by considering more public-private partnerships and examining the potential of dedicating more state land to agriculture.
Ramdin called on governments to reinvest in research and development institutions and to rebuild agricultural traditions. “We must be consistent in our efforts, ensuring there is a second generation of creative, technologically advanced farmers, or growers,” said Ramdin.
The Minister of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water of Barbados David Estwick took part in the conference, as did Minister of Health John Boyce, Principal of the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Sir Hilary Beckles, officials of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the National Agricultural Commission, farmers, representatives of non-governmental organizations and McGill University Dean Chandra Madramottoo.