OECS Agriculture Ministers Meet at 17th CARICOM CWA

OECS Media Release
A caucus of the OECS Council of Ministers: Agriculture (COM: A) was a featured event on the agenda for CARICOM’s 17th Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) which was hosted from October 9 to 13, 2023 at Breezes Resort in Nassau, Bahamas.

The caucus, under the Chairmanship of Hon. Roland Royer, Minister for Blue and Green Economy, Agriculture and Food Security of the Commonwealth of Dominica, marked a firm move from the conceptualisation stage of the Food and Agriculture Systems Transformation (FAST) Strategy into a period of rapid implementation.

The OECS COM: A launched the FAST Strategy one year ago, in October 2022, in response to CARICOM’s goal to reduce the region’s food import bill by 25% by 2025 and recognising the urgency of ensuring food security in the region. Prioritisation of goals, detailed discussions on national strategy alignment and private sector engagement have been completed during meetings and technical exercises since the launch. At the caucus, the COM:A discussed next steps to deepen regional cooperation in this area. Ministers will report on implementation progress by the Eighth Meeting of the OECS COM:A in April 2024.

In his opening remarks, the Director General of the OECS, Dr. Didacus Jules, shared some strong encouragement to build on the work already accomplished within the Eastern Caribbean:

“There is an urgent need to be ambitious, and agile, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel, mindful of the historic example of the Windward Island Banana Exporting efforts, from which we gain our inspiration.”

Dr. Jules submitted seven lessons for agricultural development which were first proposed in the writings of Mr. Frankie Leonce, an integral player in the success of the banana industry in the Windward Islands: diversification, preservation of mid-sized estates, cooperation, infrastructure, credit accessibility, conservation, support for small farmers, and strategic planning. Dr. Jules commended the COM: A for their work in using the opportunity at the CWA to engage potential international partners in the goals of the FAST Strategy.

The caucus was joined in the opening by the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA), Dr. Manuel Otero. IICA has been instrumental in the progress to date on the FAST Strategy, having funded the development of the Strategy. Dr. Manuel Otero used the opportunity to reaffirm the Institute’s commitment to supporting the FAST Strategy:

“Since assuming office in 2018, I recognised the need for a definitive strategy for the OECS region given the unique challenges and circumstances facing OECS Member States. As such, the Institute has placed great emphasis on the strengthening of its technical cooperation agenda in the region.”

Following the caucus, OECS ministers of agriculture participated in an engagement activity with international partners and agencies. Representatives from the European Union, Government of New Zealand, Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility Segregated Portfolio Company (CCRIFSPC), International Union for the Protection of New Varieties of Plants, Caribbean Development Bank (CDB), World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture (IICA) were invited to present details of the various agriculture programmes which could support the FAST Strategy.

At the end of the session, Minister Royer, Chair of the COM: A, said, “This strategy will allow us to deliver on our vision. It allows us to work together to address common bottlenecks and secure food security in the region. Our caucus here at the CWA is the fourth time we have met this year and at each meeting, we are making progress towards realizing our ambition of collective action. The regularity of our meetings and the richness of our discussions demonstrate the urgency of this issue and the importance of working together to find solutions and to find them quickly.”

Referencing the OECS Commission’s commemoration of World Food Day, Minister Royer encouraged Member States to act on the theme “Water is life, water is food. Leave no one behind.” He urged, “We in the OECS should play our part by recommitting to join the fight to remind all of the need to accelerate these efforts and strive for a future where no one is left behind and where everyone has access to safe water, healthy and affordable food, and a decent place to work, live and recreate.”

The OECS COM: A will meet virtually in November 2023 to evaluate progress on the FAST Strategy and to formally hand over the chairmanship of the council. The OECS Commission will continue to provide updates on milestones of the FAST Strategy via the online pressroom.

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