Wednesday, 21 August 2013

OAS official warns Caribbean countries

IF countries in the region fail to address the issue of food security, they may one day have to confront the question of food dependency.

The warning has come from Ambassador Albert Ramdin, Assistant Secretary General of the Organisation of American States (OAS). Speaking at a recently held national seminar held to discuss food and nutrition security in Barbados, he said the time is ripe for countries in the region to re-invest in institutions and re-build their agricultural tradition on our own terms. He made the point as he noted that a reactive rather than a proactive attitude is likely to be at the root of why many countries have not actively pursued the prospects of food security, as it relates to economic diversification.

“While many of our economies are largely based on services, tourism, exports and energy for the fortunate few, food production and food security has not consumed our attention, to the degree it should. Ladies and gentlemen, the bridge is in front of us, and we must cross it, now… I hesitate sometimes and wonder whether the stigma of our colonial past has affected our reasoning and judgement about safeguarding future, with the promotion of agricultural entrepreneurship,” he warned.

The Ambassador added that while food security has become one of the most “actionable items of this era”, with the issue being raised at almost every high profile meeting and conference over the past few years, including the OAS General Assembly in Bolivia in 2012, and the Summit of the Americas four years ago in Trinidad & Tobago, one has to question what progress has been made in helping countries to become more food secure.

“There have been small and sporadic pockets of success in individual countries. Many governments of the region have moved to incentivise the agricultural sector and encouraged local consumption drives. Right here in Barbados we have seen private sector interventions, like the donation of land to the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus by Eddie Edghill, for training and research in agriculture to attract a younger generation of producers, and that is commendable and should be encouraged, not only here but in the rest of the region as well. However, in the face of worrying trends in the region over the past decades, I believe that individually and collectively, we can and we must do more,” he contended.

Ramdin’s comments came as he noted that the contribution of agriculture to GDP in the Caribbean dropped significantly from the 1970’s to the early 2000’s; and he noted that at the same time, there has been an exorbitant increase in our food import bill, which is now hovering around US$4 billion. The OAS official said this is worrisome, as it is an indication that the region does not have direct control over a significant percentage of its food supply.

“At the OAS we have witnessed the direct link between food security, development, poverty and even stability in many countries. It is easy for us to sometimes feel removed and far away from the reality of people living in hunger. Yet, the FAO says there are approximately 53 million people in Latin America and right here in the Caribbean who go hungry every day. Many believe there is no morally justifiable reason for the persistence of hunger in a hemisphere like ours. But these numbers are painful evidence that the issue of food security has not been adequately addressed in our region. We are not as far removed from this issue as we would like to think,” he maintained. (JRT)

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