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Elevating The OECS Agriculture and Fisheries Sector: An Opportunity for a Different Future

Remarks by the OECS Director General at the 5th Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture & Fisheries.

PRESS RELEASE – (The 5th Meeting of Ministers of Agriculture & Fisheries took place in Saint Lucia from November 28-29, with a strong focus on elevating the performance of the agriculture and fisheries sector while also implementing climate resilience measures across the OECS).

AN OPPORTUNITY FOR A DIFFERENT FUTURE

Hon. Ministers of Agriculture and Fisheries of the OECS, Development Partners in the subject matter and Colleagues of the Commission:

We gather for the fifth time as the Council of Ministers of Agriculture but for the first time adding Fisheries to the matters under consideration. This meeting takes place in a very different context from our last meeting – it is post-Maria time and now the lessons of that season of destruction must be factored into all that we do going forward.

As destructive and painful as the past few months have been, the lessons of that experience – if learnt and applied – can end up signalling a positive chapter in the development history of the OECS. What are the lessons that can put us in that positive space?

The overarching lesson is the opportunity to become climate resilient. This is not just about building more robust physical infrastructure. It is a multi-dimensional undertaking that involves closing the full circle of initiatives that ensure that whatever nature throws at us we are able to withstand. So it is not just about building back better but building in the right spaces – land use policies and spatial planning that protect our watersheds, that prohibit the construction (especially of domestic dwellings) in flood plains and areas prone to disaster.

Climate resilience also applies to agriculture and fisheries. This disaster has highlighted the vital importance of agriculture to our survival and has opened the doors of possibility to a different, more sustainable, more strategic approach to the development of the sector.

That the Government of Antigua & Barbuda has the challenge to this day of feeding 1,800 of its citizens from the island of Barbuda should be a sober reminder of the imperative of food security in the OECS. The total destruction of the agricultural sector of Dominica – formerly a breadbasket of the OECS – should cause us to carefully reflect on what we need to do to create a more resilient agricultural sector that is not simply geared to export but is also meeting the health and nutritional requirements of self-reliant people.

Some of the initiatives that we had previously embarked upon, such as the Agri-shipping initiative, proved their value by enabling us to respond in a more timely and able manner to what could have been an unprecedented hunger challenge in the post-hurricane period.

Some of the initiatives that we have started since the disaster, such as the Seedling Initiative currently underway in Dominica, point us in new directions for the future. To date, in excess of 130,000 seedlings of high nutritious value and fast yield crops such as kale, cabbage, lettuce, cucumber, string beans, sweet potatoes, etc., have been incubated and distributed to farmers and individuals wishing to undertake their own backyard production. Many of these farmers have been provided with an organic fertilizer made from Sargassum seaweed donated by Algas Organics – the first indigenous Caribbean agriculture biotech company led incidentally by one of the OECS 30 Under 30 Youth Entrepreneurs, JohananDujon.

Image of Dr Didacus Jules, Director General of the OECS
Dr Didacus Jules, Director General of the OECS

The seedling initiative will be expanded to Anguilla and to the BVI to help jumpstart the move to food sufficiency.
I would like to take this opportunity to publicly express our deepest appreciation to the multilateral agencies and diplomatic partners who extended their helping hands so generously to the hurricane-impacted Member States, particularly on the food and agriculture front. Special thanks to the Governments of Venezuela, Cuba, Morocco, France, Mexico, Belgium and to the UN FAO, CARDI, IICA and the European Community.

This meeting, therefore, is of great importance in reviewing where we are at and in charting the way forward for new approaches to the development of agriculture and fisheries in the OECS. And we need to acknowledge the material support of CME Project and the CLME+, without which we would not have been able to host this meeting.

We have had the consistent support of FAO, CARDI and IICA in this period and the stage is now set for us to consolidate these partnerships and hold hands stronger with vital regional organizations, such as the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, and other initiatives such as the UK Commonwealth Marine Economies Program.

It is important that we ensure that all initiatives in the sector are converged around the objectives of our economic union so that we are not executing programes such as the CLME+ project and our major Caribbean Regional Oceanscape Project with the World Bank as isolated initiatives but as a multilateral assault on the challenges that we face.

As we go forward, Hon Ministers, we need to both tighten and widen the circles of active collaboration in the agricultural sector, starting with yourselves and extending downwards, to establish stronger collaborative relationships among professionals at the Ministry level. We also need to extend sideways to stakeholders in the farming and commercial communities.

With a food import bill in excess of three-quarter billion US dollars, and with the opportunity to reconstruct the OECS agricultural sector in a climate-smart and organic model of production linked to value added agro-processing, the future is bright. The future, however, only belongs to those who build it!

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