EDITORIAL - Towards food security
Thu, 10/13/2016 - 12:00am
For many years there has been talk locally and across the region about promoting food security, and some steps have been taken in an effort to achieve that. However, the goal seems to keep eluding us. While some countries have becomeself-sufficient with respect to certain crops and livestock, the region’s hefty food import bill shows that there is still a long way to go if we are to bring the cost of that bill down, as we endeavour to grow and produce more of what we eat.
Some have suggested that there is strength in numbers and rather than regional countries going it alone, they must give serious thought to working together and devising various measures which can be implemented to achieve food security and self-sufficiency within the region. Indeed, it is a good idea and CARICOM countries should look to move in this direction sooner rather than later.
The fact is that there are enough species of fish in the waters surrounding our islands and enough land mass across our territories, in particular the larger territories the likes of Guyana, Suriname and Belize, on which various crops can be sowed and livestock kept, to help achieve what so many of us seem to think is a difficult feat – food security. Why should individual countries in CARICOM be competing with each other with the same commodities? It makes absolutely no sense! Instead, we should be pooling our already limited resources and working together to meet the needs of the thousands of people within this region, and we could start by utilising the large land resources of these countries to grow the staples that are needed.
Too often we talk about regional integration in respect of the single market and single economy, but do not recognise or appreciate that the concept should be extended to the agricultural sector. If indeed we do so, there are benefits for all to reap. But there can be no doubt that to achieve food security will require an integrated and united approach, which is aimed at creating practical solutions to addressing the problems we face.
As such, before we can move to embrace this idea, concerted efforts will have to be made to cut down on the considerable losses often made in the post harvest period. There have been several reports over the years, which have indicated that around 50 per cent of the agricultural produce reaped in the region is lost in the post harvest period. So, regional farmers must be made au fait with post harvest techniques. Certainly some work has been done in this area, but it is imperative that such training is continuous. Knowledge is power and it is important that they not only know how to harvest produce at the right maturity, but how to adequately store that produce after reaping it.
If these improvements can be made, we can then expand the produce being planted and the region would well be on its way to achieving the goal of food security, with produce that is on par with or above the quality of that which is imported. Without a doubt, local and regional farmers can match the quality of many of these imported commodities.
Now if we go towards a collaborative farming effort, it will create opportunities for employment and indeed movement throughout the region. In that respect, CARICOM officials and Heads of Government will have to look at the free movement policy and ensure that there are no hiccups that would prevent the farmers from satisfying the demand, and prevent the growth of the agricultural sector.