Farming and fishing’s role in fighting a triple threat of lifestyle diseases, youth joblessness and climate change is to be examined by agricultural industry figures as Barbados hosts the Caribbean Week of Agriculture for the first time.
With 60 per cent of regional health budgets being spent on treating chronic non-communicable diseases (NCDs), the head of a health advocacy group is looking to the region’s farmers and fishers to combat the epidemic.
“One way we can promote healthier lifestyles is via agriculture, since an unhealthy diet is one of the principle contributing factors to NCDs,” said president of the Healthy Caribbean Coalition, Professor Sir Trevor Hassell, as the conference, whose theme is Strengthening Agriculture for a Healthier Future in the Region, opened at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centre.
“Presently, some of the factors frustrating healthy living include regional and international trade policies, individual choices, societal norms and attitudes, and education,” Sir Trevor said.
With education identified as one of the main strategies in combating NCDs, school feeding programmes are coming under the microscope.
“School feeding programmes are not merely about providing children with one hot meal a day. Ideally, we must use these programmes to help them develop good healthy lifelong habits from young, provide nutrition education, as well as link farmers to markets, and promote intersectoral linkages between agriculture, health and education,” said Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Lystra Fletcher-Paul.
During Caribbean Week of Agriculture, experts will share their findings on school feeding programmes in operation throughout the Caribbean, with additional input from representatives from Brazil and Guatemala, she said.
Another major concern is unemployment among the region’s youth which, at 25 per cent to 30 per cent, is one of the highest rates in the world.
Agriculture figures will be outlining how involvement in agriculture paired with the use of the latest technology in the sector can help create jobs for young people.
Toby Johnson of the Alliance Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), one of the main sponsors of the event, suggested a solution to young people’s low-level interest in agriculture was “more innovation incorporating new technology” which could turn attraction into job creation.
“Over the last few years we have supported nearly 800 agri-preneurs, and recently awarded 26 of them, one of whom was a Jamaican who has created an app using blockchain which will make financing more easily available to Jamaican farmers,” Johnson added.
Climate change, especially in the wake of droughts and natural disasters that several Caribbean countries have faced lately will also get attention during a disaster management seminar, highlighting the impact of hazards like hurricanes and floods on farming.
“Dominica’s agricultural industry lost some $200 million owing to Hurricane Maria a year ago. So we will be examining best practices, climate smart strategies, land tenure including the establishment of land banks, along with the technical and financial resources that can help mitigate climate change,” said the FAO’s Dr. Fletcher-Paul.
Other issues expected to gain the attention of the agricultural community during the forum include the links between agriculture and tourism, the continued development of the coconut industry, herbs and spices, small ruminants (sheep and goats), and the issue of cannabis’s impact on agriculture.
There will also be an exhibition highlighting the work of regional institutions including the Caribbean Agriculture Research and Development Institute (CARDI), the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), the FAO, and a meeting of CARICOM farm ministers.