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(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) The soaring food prices were a continuing reminder that the Region had no choice but to pay increasing attention to food and nutrition security and cost-efficient sustainable agricultural production, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Ambassador Irwin LaRocque said on Wednesday.

Delivering remarks at the formal opening ceremony of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) in Antigua and Barbuda, the Secretary-General said that renewed emphasis had to be placed on agriculture to counter the high food prices as well as to ensure that the Region’s populace ate what it produced.
CWA is being held under the theme `Celebrating youth and gender in Caribbean agriculture; Each Endeavouring, All Achieving’, and so far, many of the activities, including workshops and seminars have had strong youth and women components.

“The involvement of women and young people is critical if we are to influence the taste and preference of our households to consume domestically produced nutritionally balanced foods which would also have the added benefit of safeguarding against chronic non-communicable diseases which are prevalent in the Region,” he told the audience at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in St. John’s, Antigua, where most of the CWA activities, including a Trade Show, are being held.

With pointed reference to the involvement of youth in agriculture, the Secretary-General addressed the need for the creation and maintenance of the kind of environment that would attract young people to the sector. His comments were made against the background of the Region’s aging farming population and statistical evidence that showed that the next 10-15 years, the production of food within the Region would be seriously compromised if young persons were not attracted to the agriculture sector.

“…we must provide improved access to training at all educational levels from primary to tertiary. We have to ensure that they have the access to resources, both financial and technical including access to technology. We have to ensure also that the market opportunities are available both for primary and value-added products, and finally, we absolutely must change the image of agriculture and brand it as a sector filled with opportunity,” the Secretary-General advised.

Ambassador LaRocque praised the efforts of regional organisations and programmes which targeted youth and women in their programmes. He singled out the Caribbean Agricultural Forum for Youth (CAFY) Caribbean Network of Rural Women’s Producers (CANROP) and the Caribbean Farmers Network (CAFAN). Youth and women have also been infused in the Region’s policy and project initiatives including the Liliendaal Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security, the Community Agricultural Policy (CAP), the Regional Food and Nutrition Security Plan (RFNSP) and in the European Union-funded Intra-ACP Agricultural Policy Programme.

“I applaud this effort of reaching out to the youth and women to become involved in the agriculture sector which provides them with an opportunity to earn a living as well as contribute significantly to the development of their country and the Region,” he said.

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