Agriculture workshop participants
CASTRIES, St Lucia -- Agriculture leaders in the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) convened for a two-day meeting in St Lucia last week to discuss viable options towards enhancing intra-regional trade of agricultural commodities in the OECS.
The workshop, organised by the OECS with the support of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, facilitated discussions on key themes such as the free circulation of goods in the OECS, exporter and importer shipping concerns, sanitary and phytosanitary measures and other regulations that impact on trade.
Minister of agriculture in St Vincent and the Grenadines, Saboto Caesar, discussed the OECS agriculture shipping initiative as a means to alleviate the over US$500 million dollar food import bill in the OECS.
“Once there is a vessel available, it is going to be an engine for growth. Persons who previously did not consider shipping as an option would begin using this as a mode of trade,” Caesar said.
The agriculture minister also stressed the need to be creative in crop selection in an effort to delve into new markets.
“We already have agriculture commodities moving in the region and we have found that traditional traders are not keen on trying new crops once they have found a niche that works.
“This is why it is important that we bring new traders on board who are open to trying new crops and penetrating new markets,” Caesar said.
Caesar called on all agriculture ministers and senior officials present to take action and identify a “point person” in each of their ministries to spearhead the initiative and create on-island working groups. The end of 2016 was proposed as the deadline for member states to submit a list of commodities that they would, ideally, like to produce.
“We are aware that this not something that would happen overnight, but we have to keep our eyes on the ball,” Caesar said.
Director general of the OECS, Dr Didacus Jules, said that efforts have already begun to develop a sustainable relationship between farmers and hotels.
“We ultimately want to see a reduction in the food import bill. It is therefore critical that we move toward self-sufficiency as far as we are able to at this point in time.
“Adopting the latest and sustainable agriculture techniques is the key to longevity of this initiative. We will work with our partners to ensure that the necessary framework is established but essentially we would like this process to be driven by the market,” Jules said.
The partnership of the agriculture and tourism sectors also highlighted opportunities in the emerging market of exotic flowers as an example of new areas for agricultural growth in member states.
The workshop integrated open discussions and focus group sessions to promote technical exchanges and allow participants to work together to come up with agriculture development programmes at the national and regional levels.
Caesar will hold a press conference in St Vincent and the Grenadines on Friday, to recap milestones achieved at the close of the workshop and discuss the availability of funding in member states.