Caribbean Week of Agriculture Kicks Off in The Bahamas with A Call to Further the Region’s Progress Towards Reducing Food Imports by Strengthening Producers’ Sustainability and Resilience

Nassau, Bahamas (IICA) – The Caribbean Week of Agriculture 2023 opened with a resounding call to accelerate and consolidate efforts to reduce the region’s dependence on food imports, an objective towards which the region has already made significant progress.

The four-day event, which is currently underway in Nassau, Bahamas, brings together decision-makers from the public and private sectors as well as experts, representatives of international agencies, and agricultural producers. The event was officially opened by the host country’s Prime Minister, Philip Davis; Carla Barnett, Secretary-General of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM); Jomo Campbell, the new Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources of The Bahamas; and Manuel Otero, Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA).

IICA is one of the organizers of this conference – the premier event on agriculture in the Caribbean – which was first held in 1999 in Trinidad and Tobago. Its objective is to strengthen the role of agriculture as a driving force for economic development in Caribbean countries and the well-being of their rural communities, which are particularly vulnerable to the increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events due to climate change.

The previous edition of the event was held virtually in 2021.

One of the most relevant panel discussions will take place on Thursday, October 12, and will be organized by IICA and the World Food Programme (WFP), a UN agency that was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2020 for its efforts to combat hunger and foster peace in conflict-affected areas. Entitled “Food and Nutrition Security – Enhancing Agrifood Systems by Creating Opportunities for Small-Scale Farmers to Access Markets”, the panel will highlight the need to establish linkages between school meal programs and family farmers.

The theme of this edition of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture is “Accelerating Vision 25 by 2025”, which makes reference to the objective established by the region in 2018 to reduce food imports 25% by 2025. Despite the issues generated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the region has made significant progress towards achieving that goal.

“‘Accelerating Vision 25 by 2025’ is more than just a slogan. It’s our shared mission. It’s an ambitious journey that recognizes the urgency of our present and the potential of our future”, said Davis.

The Bahamian head of government noted that Caribbean countries are well on their way towards meeting the goal they set for 2025. “In fact, collectively, we have achieved 50% of this ambitious target. This represents a great stride forward when it comes to feeding ourselves and creating a sustainable agriculture industry”, he remarked.

Davis is certain that the Caribbean is poised to see an agricultural boom over the next few years. “Even in historically difficult environments, we are seeing innovations that allow for sustainable farming practices – sustainable from a food production perspective, as well as a business model perspective”, he maintained.

The Prime Minister explained that the region, whose agriculture sector has long faced adverse situations, is better prepared than any other region to overcome global challenges. As an example, he cited the Bahamian island of Eleuthera, which exported pineapples around the world in the 19th century and subsequently saw a sharp decline in that industry due to soil exhaustion, pests, diseases, and international competition and trade laws.

“Today, the island of Eleuthera is expanding its pineapple production once again, thanks to innovation and technology, and is setting an example for the rest of the region”, he explained.

“While the global community has recently come to terms with the fragility of international food systems, for us in the Caribbean, this has always been the reality”, he added.

Davis also underscored the work carried out by IICA and other international agencies to drive agricultural development in the Caribbean, which demonstrates the importance of collective action.

Barnett highlighted the fact that the member countries of CARICOM – an organization comprised of Caribbean countries, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year – Member States have been working to create an enabling environment for resilient and sustainable agriculture. She pointed out that efforts have been undertaken to support digitalization and innovation, climate change adaptation and regional investment.

“We are now halfway towards meeting our 2025 objective to reduce imports. At this time, we cannot afford to lose sight of our target. We must leverage the sector to empower farmers, and especially our women and young people. We must reduce the food import bill, and ensure food and nutrition security for future generations of the Caribbean”, she stated.

Minister Jomo Campbell voiced his commitment to increasing food security in the Caribbean, despite challenges such as climate change. He stated that Vision 25 by 2025 sets forth a roadmap for building a resilient, innovative and thriving agriculture sector.

“We believe that agriculture can contribute to social development and economic growth. One of the pillars of our strategy for 2025 is the promotion of sustainable farming practices. We are seeing more severe storms and more extreme high temperatures due to climate change, so we are in need of innovative solutions”, said Campbell.

The Director General of IICA considered that the Caribbean Week of Agriculture affords a unique opportunity for all agricultural stakeholders to share experiences and good practices, with a view to jointly tackling the region’s challenges with respect to food and nutritional security.

“Today we face unprecedented global challenges and threats to our agrifood systems – from the COVID-19 pandemic and climate-related phenomena to the war in Ukraine and the recent tragedy in Israel – that have elevated IICA’s work in strengthening food security to the highest priority and reinforced its responsibility in this regard”, stated Manuel Otero.
IICAIICA is the specialized agency for agriculture in the Inter-American system, with a mission to encourage, promote and support its 34 Member States in their efforts to achieve agricultural development and rural well-being through international technical cooperation of excellence.

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