(CARICOM Secretariat, Turkeyen, Greater Georgetown, Guyana) Key regional and international organisations have pledged their commitment to improving the lot of family farmers across the Caribbean region through collaboration with each other.
In their remarks at the formal opening ceremony of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) in Paramaribo, Suriname on Wednesday 8 October, representatives of regional and international organisations lamented that family farmers were unheralded, even though they were playing a critical role in the agriculture sector.
Transforming Caribbean Agriculture through Family Farming is the theme of this year’s CWA.
Family farmers include indigenous peoples, traditional communities, fisher folk, pastoralists, and collectors. Family farming is understood to include crop, livestock, forestry, fishery and aquaculture producers. These producers are largely smallholders and medium-scale farmers and peasants. They play a vital role in helping to reduce the high food import bill as well as in aiding the revitalization of agriculture in the Caribbean Community (CARICOM).
About 80 per cent of the food supply in developing and developed countries is produced by an estimated 500 million family farms Dr. Deep Ford Regional Coordinator, Caribbean Region, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said in his remarks to the opening ceremony.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, family farming accounts for more than 80 per cent of agricultural production and generates more than 50% of agricultural employment. In Haiti alone, there are one million family farmers who produce about 50 per cent of the food that is consumed there.
“In addition to being a major supplier of traditional food which contributes to healthy, balanced diets, family farming provides employment opportunities, preserves and enhances the culture, skills and traditions of local communities and contributes to the conservation of plant and animal species,” he said.
Although strides have been made, in family farming in CARICOM, much more needs to be done to improve the lot of those farmers. For starters, there was need for the development of a Caribbean definition of family farmers in consideration of the diverse range of circumstances under which family farms in the Region operated.
“This is necessary so that we can develop targeted policies, directed at specific family farms. This includes technologies to enhance the productivity of family farmers tailored to their specific circumstances, taking into account the people and the environment. We must also promote, enhance and expand their current sustainable practices and ensure that they not only feed their families but feed the rest of country and Region, so that we rely less on imported foods. Also, we must ensure that these families realize improved livelihoods. Family farmers are among the poorest households in our countries,” Dr. Ford pointed out.
The FAO regional coordinator said the FAO was committed to supporting regional and national efforts in a number of areas. Among them: developing the detailed analysis to inform the identification and evaluation of policy options, trade policy assessments, vulnerability and resilience analysis, and developing measures to improve agricultural productivity and sustainability, including the design of effective social protection systems.
In recognition that such an undertaking could not be done alone, he said that FAO will continue to collaborate with developmental partners such as CARDI, IICA, CTA, CaFaN, CABA, CCCCCs; CARICOM, governments, civil society, private sector and academia to support family farmers in the Region.
The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), a key partner in the hosting of the CWA, also weighed in on the importance of family farmers.
CTA Director, Mr. Michael Hailu, said his organization wanted to explore how to make conditions better for smallholder farmers who he described as the backbone of food production in the Caribbean.
“There is also another important dimension to family farming. I’m talking about young people and the role that they should and can play in supporting agricultural development, in light of an ageing farmer community in the Caribbean and across the ACP,” he told the audience at the opening ceremony.
That was the reason CTA was making a special effort to encourage young people to engage in agriculture in ways they could relate to, utilizing new technologies that were far removed from the old image of agriculture, he said.
The CTA has spearheaded two competitions this year aimed at youth and the innovative contributions they could make to agriculture and rural development in the Caribbean.
For many years, the populace of the Region has depended on family farming to keep it satisfied, said Dr. Arlington Chesney, Executive Director of the Caribbean Agricultural Research and Development Institute (CARDI).
“It is the income from family farms that has facilitated the education of most of our doctors, engineers, lawyers and perhaps politicians. But the family farmers have generally been unheralded and sometimes despised. It is my sincere hope that following CWA and 2014, the family farm and the family farmers will be given the respect and place of honour that they are so deserving of,” he said.
The reality of family farming in the region includes thousands of small farms as well as some successful large farms, all applying indigenous knowledge and technology and acting as innovators in their own right, Dr. Victor Villalobos, Director of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) said. He pointed out that some of the large and very successful commercial family-managed farms in the Caribbean included the Mennonite farmers in Belize who were responsible for much of the corn, beans and dairy production; rice farmers in Guyana, cassava farmers in Suriname, and sheep and goat farmers in Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
“…IICA therefore wishes to take this opportunity to re-affirm its commitment to Family Agriculture in the Caribbean, and to the application of technology in helping to promote a new kind of agriculture in the Caribbean that will make the sector more competitive and increase its contribution to food security,” Dr. Villalobos said.