Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Sir Hilary: We must dig ourselves out – of regional food insecurity

ONCE recognised as a zone of agricultural dynamism, the region is now forced with a task of digging itself out of a hole as it relates to food security.

Principal and Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the UWI Cave Hill Campus in Barbados Professor Sir Hilary Beckles said between the 16th and 18th centuries, every square inch of land was pressed into agriculture for export. Denouncing the type of labour utilised at that time, he acknowledged that the colonisers and imperialists transformed the Caribbean into the world’s most dynamic agricultural economy.

His comments came on Monday during a Regional Conference on Cassava in the Caribbean and Latin America and Launch of the Centre for Food Security and Entrepreneurship at the 3Ws Pavilion.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, the principal told the attendees that he left a recent symposium in Berlin, with a clear view of the rapid growth of the world’s population over the past six decades, which is disproportionate to the level of food production, particularly in the region.

“I was struck by a graph showing the leap of the world’s population in the last 60 years after remaining fairly constant over the past 800 years. Food production is trying to catch up with this. When I saw production of food in the various areas of the world frantically trying to cope with this global explosion of the earth’s population, the Caribbean was not on the growth curve. I was concerned about that... We are a massive importer of  food, we do not feed ourselves.”

He lamented that one cannot help but feel a certain responsibility for this fact. He told the high level agricultural experts attending the seminar, “I know all of you here are trying, your hearts are dedicated to the issue of Food Security, production, finding solutions to our problems... but against the background, we know we have to do much more.”

Sir Hilary pointed to the declining allocation of acreage to agriculture in the region as one of the main problems facing the region. “I have seen the data across the Caribbean and in almost every jurisdiction, the acreage available to agriculture and food production has declined significantly.”

“So here you have it a massively growing population, acreage available to agriculture declining across the region, output of foods for export or even for consumption is of great concern. You put those trends together and you can see the nature of the problem.”

“I believe when you travel the region, you are struck by the issue of the abandonment of agricultural land. And yet in my judgement, I know we have the skills, we have the culture, we have the technology, we know what we have to do, but somehow the policies, the fiscal arrangements, financial arrangements, commitments, it is not coming together,” he lamented. (JH)

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