A SPECIAL Meeting of Agricultural Ministers of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) was held virtually on Tuesday, February 16th 2021, under the Chairmanship of the Honourable Samantha Marshall, Minister of Agriculture, Lands, Fisheries and Barbuda Affairs for Antigua and Barbuda.
In the main, the Meeting focused on the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s (FAO) COVID-19 Investment Initiative and the strategic ways in which the information will strengthen the OECS’ Food and Agriculture Sector Recovery and Transformation plan.
The health consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic continue to threaten the adequate functioning of food supply chains to the region as many countries move to secure their domestic supplies by imposing export restrictions.
The FAO COVID-19 Investment Initiative seeks to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on the region’s food and agricultural sector by directing the relevant technical assistance to identify strategic food and agriculture enterprises.
In partnership with the OECS Commission and Ministries of Agriculture within the OECS, several consultations were held in each OECS Member State to prepare national investment profiles that would facilitate the region’s food and agriculture sector recovery and transformation process.
In her opening remarks, Director of Economic Affairs and Regional Integration at the OECS Commission, Mrs. Jacqueline Emmanuel-Flood, noted:
“This initiative is intended to contribute to the OECS’ ongoing activity to update our own Revised Regional Plan of Action for Agriculture until 2022. The research provides new input and new life to our efforts moving forward.”
“The proposed approach aims to target resources from existing sources, as well as new funding opportunities that have arisen in response to the COVID-19 crisis, and will provide the basis for our food and agriculture sector to live up to its true potential.”
Dr. Deep Ford, Strategic Analyst from the FAO, presented the OECS Agriculture Ministers with an in-depth review of the COVID-19 Investment Initiative. Key matters discussed included, inter alia:
- Impacts and Lessons of COVID-19
- OECS Challenges and Responses
- Elements of the FAO Initiative for OECS
- OECS Regional Investment Priorities
- OECS National Investment Priorities
- Investment Financing Strategy
- Public Policy Considerations
As context for his presentation, Dr. Ford highlighted to Ministers the importance of timely action:
“This pandemic could have very serious implications for food security if we don’t take some important actions in the short run and in the medium term. Also, very importantly, we need to learn from whatever the experience is going to be. We need to build a food and agriculture sector of the future that is much more resilient, inclusive and sustainable.”
Dr. Ford also outlined the dangers of relying on external countries for food security, noting the recent trends by major exporters to retain supplies for their own populations.
“Long value chains are going to be shortened because of COVID-19, and this has already started in our region. We need to increase national and regional production and trade, and we need to look very importantly at shorter value chains.”
“A greater economic balance is needed in our production structures and trade structures. While we continue to promote tourism, we can have a greater economic balance by moving tourism, perhaps from being 50 to 60 percentage of the GDP in some countries, on average, to as much as 40 percent. We need to look at bringing agriculture back and relying more on producing our own food and agriculture, manufacturing products based on agriculture, and changing our economic and trade structures.”
The regional Ministers of Agriculture welcomed the initial findings of the FAO initiative and engaged Dr. Ford on the recommendations for the way forward.
In closing, Chair of the meeting, the Honourable Samantha Marshall, thanked Dr. Ford for a well thought out presentation, clearly identifying the required areas for development in each territory and highlighting the areas of focus towards strengthened agricultural production.
“Clearly, the global pandemic has shown us that, within the region, there is need for us to ensure that we increase our food supply and, based on that, we embrace the outline of the FAO presentation so that we can be focused as to how, as a region, we can better supply our people and ourselves,” Hon. Marshall said.
The outcomes of the FAO Investment Initiative are intended to:
- contribute to the OECS’ ongoing efforts to transform the OECS Revised Regional Plan of Action for Agriculture: 2012 – 2022 into an OECS Regional Agriculture Development Strategic Re-visioning document; and
- contribute to the national food and agricultural sector plan – currently in progress in OECS Member States.