The coronavirus pandemic could provide an opportunity for farmers, wholesalers and other agricultural investors to rebuild farming and food production into a modern and sustainable industry, a senior CARICOM official said as the annual Caribbean Week of Agriculture was launched Wednesday.
From October 4 to 8, regional agricultural figures are to discuss how to sustain higher economic output. The week’s theme is Transforming our Food Systems.
CARICOM Assistant Secretary-General for Trade and Economic Integration, Joseph Cox, told a virtual opening ceremony for the 16th Caribbean Week of Agriculture that COVID-19 has proven to be the much-needed catalyst to jump start a change in agricultural practices.
He said: “Whereas COVID-19 has exposed areas of fragility in our regional food systems including supply chains shorts, vulnerability to international price volatility, and input source supply concentration, the pandemic has also created new market opportunities… and in this regard, I choose to view the incidence of COVID, not as a market disrupter per say, but as an accelerant for change.”
As coronavirus restrictions take hold, the use of technology in agriculture has risen starkly, with drones, greenhouses and other forms of technology being used effectively to maximise sustainability and profits in the Caribbean, said Cox.
The 15-nation bloc’s goal of cutting its food import bill by a quarter in four year’s time – dubbed the “25 in 5” strategy – could be met if the private sector and government agencies invest in these projects and help further propel regional farming, the trade official suggested.
Cox said: “A vibrant and engaged regional private sector underpins all of these innovations, and the attendant investment occasionally [leads to] an increased in productivity in agriculture. It is also buttressed by the political commitment offered by the 25 in 5 strategy, where the CARICOM heads of government have responded to a looming regional food insecurity vulnerability, by setting out a target reduction in our food import bill by 25 per cent by the year 2025.”
This region’s annual food imports of US$5 billion are estimated to reach six billion in a few years if immediate measures are not taken, he warned.
Several virtual exhibits are planned for CWA, including on agro business, agro-tourism, manufacturing, agro-education, retail and distribution.
Cox said the organizers hope that CARICOM citizens will take advantage of the week, during which the organizers hope to reintroduce several regional delicacies to participants, as international influences have diluted the once rich dishes many of the islands have been known for.
He declared: “We strategically seek to reintroduce to the regional populace, not only indigenous foods and their preparations, but also introduce to all new techniques in preparing and presenting indigenous foods.
“We have decided to introduce this particular element, as we have taken cognizant of that fact, that with the controlled penetration occasioned by cable television and social media, entire generations are being socialized into the North American [styles] while remaining oblivious to the renowned fusion cuisine that is offered in the region.”
CARICOM’s social media pages are expected to feature CWA’s several exhibits beginning on October 4. (SB)