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Sharp Focus On Transportation, Agri-tourism Linkages At Special COTED On Agriculture

(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Ministers of Agriculture wrapped up a Special Meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) Friday, recording movement on the linkages between agriculture and tourism and agreeing on the need for intensified action to address the transport of goods within the Region.

The Special COTED Meeting on Agriculture was the last activity of the 11th Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) held in Antigua and Barbuda under the theme ‘Celebrating Youth and Gender in Caribbean Agriculture: Each Endeavouring, All Achieving’.

At a press conference at the Sir Vivian Richards Stadium at the conclusion of the Meeting, Chair of COTED, the Hon. Roger Clarke pointed out that food security and the reduction of the Region’s very high food import bill were the common threads running through the Meeting’s agenda and the entire CWA, which he described as “very, very fruitful.”

He told representatives of the media that the Meeting endorsed a Plan of Action for the strengthening of linkages between agriculture and tourism. That plan, he said, included measures to increase the trade of agricultural goods into the tourism and hospitality sector, and rural/culinary tourism product development and promotion. The special emphasis in this regard was on root and tuber crops.

Extensive discussions were held on the subject of linking small farmers to market and Ministers received reports from the Caribbean Farmers Network (CaFAN) on the implementation of the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)-funded PROPEL programme, which will support increased access to intra-regional markets by small farmers. The programme will focus on a selection of regional agricultural products, forging links with supermarkets and other buyers. According to Minister Clarke, the Meeting welcomed the initiative, particularly in light of the Region’s high food bill.

However, concern was expressed about the poor transportation linkages available to the Region’s agricultural producers and it was agreed that intensified action was needed in this area. It was also agreed that concerted action needed to be taken to reduce the costs of production.

“Discussions took place because the CaFAN organization, which represents farmers throughout the Region, had been looking at the intra-regional trade in agriculture and what came out as an impediment was the transportation problem. It has to do with a lot of things: it has to do with volumes; it has to do with the demand in particular territories. So what they have decided to do is to establish some linkage with the private sector … There must be synergies between those who want the product, how much they want, what is perishable, what can be held for longer periods, all those sorts of things…

“It is a logistical nightmare. However, it can be done because when you analyse the demand for food within the Region and how much is coming extra-regionally, you know that the potential and the possibilities are there. The major problem that has been put on the table is that it is much easier to bring (produce) from Miami to anywhere in the Region than move from country to country within the Region, and therefore that is being looked at. But it has to start from the production, the demand and the information – people have to know what is needed and then they plan for it,” Minister Clarke pointed out.

The Hon. Matthew Walter, Chairman of the Meeting of the Alliance for Sustainable Development of Agriculture and the Rural Milieu (The Alliance) and Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, Dominica; and the Hon. Hilson Baptiste, host Minister of Agriculture, Lands, Housing and the Environment, also addressed the issue of transportation within the Region. They both underscored the need for information, further discussion, and the modernization of vessels to ply the regional route, and agreed that the resolution to the transportation difficulties lay in Member States working together.

Ms. Desiree Field-Ridley, Officer-in-Charge, Directorate of Trade and Economic Integration, CARICOM Secretariat, who shared the press conference with the Ministers, also underlined the need for cohesiveness.

She pointed out that the CWA was packed with a wide cross-section of stakeholder events. The activities demonstrated the potential of the CWA in terms of identifying what was necessary to move the sector forward, and highlighted the need for better access to, and use of, the Region’s resources.

She pointed out that “we are all very small countries; we all have challenges and obviously we will do better if we are working together.

“With rising prices, we have to produce competitively and to do so, we have to use all the resources we have and this Week positions us to do that.”

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