Honourable Robert Persaud, Minister of Agriculture
His Excellency Edwin Carrington, Secretary General, CARICOM Secretariat
Dr. Dindyal Permaul, PS, Ministry of Agriculture
Mr. Trevor Murray, Director of Operations and Integration for the Caribbean Region, IICA
Representatives of International and Regional Institutions
Specially invited guests, farmers, friends, ladies and gentlemen
It gives me great pleasure to be here today at the opening of this workshop for the Formulation of a Regional Policy for Food and Nutrition Security in the Caribbean. I also wish to take this opportunity to welcome you my new home, Guyana. As you know, FAO has recently opened an Office in Georgetown and I can safely say that even after just 4 months on the job as the FAO Representative, I feel very much at home in this country. This is, in no small measure, due to the warmth and hospitality of the Guyanese people. I am sure the over the next two days you will experience it for yourself.
The workshop is, indeed timely, as it comes on the heels of the recently completed World Summit on Food Security which was held two weeks ago from 16 – 18 November at FAO’s Headquarters in Rome. The Summit brought together heads of governments of over 100 countries to discuss the issue of food security and drew our attention to the fact that the number of hungry people in the world has now reached the 1 billion mark. More telling is the fact that, one in every six persons in the world suffers from malnutrition and 5 children die from malnutrition every 30 seconds. This occurring at a time when the world boasts of advanced technological advancements.
Here in the Caribbean, the figures suggest that up until 2005 the Caribbean was making good progress towards achieving the MDG hunger target of reducing the number of hungry people by 50% by 2015. The data revealed that the proportion of food insecure in the region declined to 23 percent in 2003/05 compared to 26 percent in 1990/92, the base year for the World Food Summit targets. However the situation is not entirely positive, as the same figures showed that the number of malnourished persons in the region stands at 7.6 million (including Haiti), which is the same as in the beginning of the nineties. This means that close to one in every four persons in the region is undernourished.
Undoubtedly the soaring food prices of 2007 have reversed some of the gains made at the beginning of the twenty-first century, but the extent and impact still need to be further researched. Both the IDB and FAO have estimated, however, that in Latin America and the Caribbean the number of food insecure rose by 6 million as a direct result of the high food prices.
A CARICOM/FAO/CFNI study conducted in 2006-2007, concluded that “Food security is being compromised not in terms of availability of food, but in terms of accessibility and consumption/utilization”. The Study further revealed that total food calories availability in the region exceeds the recommended population goals, but that significant inequality in distribution remains, particularly as it relates to poverty. Furthermore, the study found that we import more close to 50 percent of the regional food needs. With the exception of Belize and Guyana, all the countries are net food importers, with the smaller economies of the OECS being the most highly dependent on imports. Moreover the change of diets as a result of the economic growth of the countries of the region is triggering an increase in non-communicable diseases.
Caribbean Regional Food Security is therefore as much related to food consumption patterns and lifestyles of the Caribbean people. This finding implies that there is need for strong partnership which draws on a wide range of stakeholders, not just in agriculture, but in health, nutrition, education, trade and social policy.
This workshop is therefore, a step in the right direction. It has brought together the main stakeholders in the agricultural sector as well as in trade, nutrition, health and education to work together to develop the Regional Food and Nutrition Security Policy. It responds to the mandates of the Heads of government in their call for food security and sustainable development as one of the main pillars of the Regional Transformation Programme for Agriculture, as well as the goals of the Jagdeo Initiative and Community Agricultural Policy under the Revised Treaty of Chaguaramas.
It is consistent with Five Rome Principles for Sustainable Food Security which were adopted by the World Food Summit. These Principles included: 1) invest in country-owned plans channeling resources to well-designed and results-based programmes and partnerships (2) foster strategic coordination at all levels to improve governance, promote better allocation of resources and avoid duplication; 3) strive for twin-track approach to food security including short-term emergency and long term development measures; (4) work to improve the efficiency, coordination and effectiveness of multilateral institutions and (5) ensure sustained and substantial commitment by all partners to investment in agriculture and food security and nutrition.
It also builds on the many initiatives that FAO has taken in the area of Food Security in the Caribbean. These include:
• Phase one of the Caribbean Regional Food Security Project – Promoting CARICOM/CARIFORUM food security. This project was funded by the Italian government to the tune of US 4.9 million with the objective of improving the food security situation of the CARIFORUM member states both individually and as a whole, by increasing the availability and access to adequate quantities of safe, quality assured food products to food insecure and poor rural communities across the region.
• That project was supported by another US $ 5 million in TCP projects which provided technical assistance in the form of South South Cooperation experts from Cuba and China.
• Phase II of the Promoting CARICOM/CARIFORUM Food Security Project, with a budget of US $ 4.07 million seeks to improve the food security situation of the CARICOM/CARIFORUM states at different levels through strengthening the food policy environment and the support services to promote efficient and sustainable food systems. This project comprises two main components, – a Policy Support Team and a Value Chain Team. The Policy Support team headed by Dr. Pirro-Tomaso Perri is housed in the CARICOM Secretariat, while the Value Chain team, headed by Mr. Robert Best is based in the FAO Office in Trinidad.
• The national and regional Initiative on Soaring Food Prices projects
• In addition, in response to the request of the Caribbean governments, FAO has implemented a number of Technical Cooperation Projects at the national and regional level to address a range of issues in the agriculture, nutrition, forestry and fisheries – all of which impact on food security.
• Moreover, FAO’s normative programmes in Land and Water, Agricultural Policy, Food safety and nutrition, fisheries and forestry, plant production and protection and animal health and production also contribute the overall support of the Organization to Caribbean Regional Food Security. Ladies and gentlemen, as I look at the familiar faces in the audience who have been in the field of agriculture as long as I have, I ask myself, have the problems and constraints to agricultural production in the Caribbean been alleviated or changed over that time? Thirty years ago, when I was a teenager, at UWI, the problems were the same. Why is that? What are we doing about it? Do we just continue to talk about our problems and blame the previous generation for the inertia or dare I say, the decline of the sector? Or are we finally going to do something about it during our watch?
This workshop, colleagues, is our opportunity to change – to stop talking and do something about agriculture, food and nutrition security in the Caribbean. Let us not view the next two days as just another talk shop. By December 1, let us go back to our respective countries knowing exactly what we have to do to make a difference for once and for all.
In the words of Catherine Pulsifer, “Rather than thinking “if and when”, start doing, take action , stop talking about if and when” FAO stands willing to assist and work with our partners to make a difference.
I wish you well in your deliberations and a successful workshop.
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